Somewhat belatedly I am making the announcement on here! This blog is now inactive, as I have moved to Skeptic Ink Network. I’m delighted to be part of such a great group of writers, so please check the other blogs there as well.

Thanks for reading!


Atheists will be used to mischaracterisations of their position. One common misunderstanding is that being an atheist means ‘believing in nothing’. As we know, the term ‘atheist’ describes our lack of belief in (or denial of) the existence of gods. Of course, atheism is compatible with ‘belief in nothing’, but usually atheists will hold other positive beliefs about other issues. For instance, one might be an atheist and be pro-life, or a socialist,  or a preference utilitarian, etc. The label ‘atheist’ doesn’t speak about other beliefs you might have, unless it would be contradictory to both be an atheist and hold that belief. For example, one cannot be both an atheist and believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, as belief in the Resurrection requires first that one believes in the Christian conception of God. That would be a contradiction.


With that in mind, it isn’t hard to see why I’m surprised that blogger Jen McCreight has started a new movement, or ‘wave’ of atheism: Atheism+. She sees atheism (as a movement) in its current form as a ‘Boy’s [sic] Club’, and makes an analogy with the ‘waves’ of feminism:

It’s time for a new wave of atheism, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of atheism were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademark was their unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of “middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men” patting themselves on the back for debunking homeopathy for the 983258th time or thinking up yet another great zinger to use against Young Earth Creationists.

That is very unfair. Take her scoffing at those debunking homeopathy for instance. Firstly, it is unclear what homeopathy has to do with atheism. Secondly, those who do spent a lot of time debunking homeopathy might have a variety of reasons for doing so. One might be that debunking pseudo-scientific claims is a hobby for them. I see no harm in that, and examining such claims can be a great learning experience in general. Another might be to prevent harm done by people peddling homeopathy as a substitute for real medicine, and this is a very worthwhile goal. One can do these things without harming the cause of social justice. That is important. We each make our own contributions in our own way. Many people do not actively help disabled people in their plight, for example. But unless they’re standing in the way of those who actually are doing that, I don’t think that we should criticise them for their lack of action (or else we’d all be hypocrites).


In a follow-up post, McCreight illuminates her idea further:

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

It speaks to those of us who see atheism as more than just a lack of belief in god.

I’d like to think that I am all of those things. I could add more: I’m an atheist plus a socialist. I’m an atheist plus I’m pro-choice. I’m an atheist plus a Wagnerite! ‘Atheist’ describes just one part of my belief system. However, McCreight’s idea that atheism should be seen as ‘more than just a lack of belief in god’ does not make a lot of sense. If ‘atheist’ includes social justice, then saying ‘atheist plus social justice’ is trivial. If it doesn’t, then it is difficult to see how this is different from ‘first wave’ atheism.


Perhaps I’m being uncharitable here. McCreight isn’t talking about the definition of ‘atheism’, but rather she is talking about forming a new movement with atheism at its core. I still believe this is problematic.


1)  There is already something like this: humanism. It involves positive ethical beliefs in addition to a commitment to rational, philosophical and scientific inquiry. One difference, however is that humanism isn’t explicitly atheist, yet I don’t see why this should matter. After all humanism already has an explicit commitment to human rationality, so it is unclear what benefit there is to getting rid of religious belief completely. We might call it ‘humanism that excludes non-atheists’ without any substantive difference, yet when framed like that it sounds rather unnecessary.


2)  There are already movements that support these extra causes. If I want to fight racism, promote women’s rights or anything else, I could join one of the many groups around that are already fighting these things. They have nothing to do with atheism. We might as atheists also fight these causes, but it is not part of atheism. This also applies to things like homeopathy – we might be atheists plus homeopaths without contradiction. If there is to be an atheist movement at all, it should be to ensure that atheists are not discriminated against, but this is not to say that the atheist movement should not promote these sorts of things internally. For instance, there should be no sexist or racist (…etc.) discrimination at atheist conferences, just as there also should be no such discrimination at Wagner Society meet-ups. There is no need for ‘Wagnerism+’ for those who are Wagnerites plus believe in gay rights and so forth. Just as it doesn’t make sense for the Wagner Society to be about fighting transphobia, it doesn’t make much sense for the atheist movement to be about that either. Wagnerites might still hold these beliefs and are of course welcome to join feminist groups, but it does not make much sense for the Wagner Society itself to fight these causes.


3)  It is unclear exactly which issues should follow the ‘plus’. Even if you are still on McCreight’s side at this point, you might have your own idea about what ‘Atheism+’ should mean. I have already seen requests for extra doctrines, like animal rights and so forth. What about a concern for the poor? What about a welfare state? What about supporting Palestine? It is unclear how we decide what does or does not count as part of ‘Atheism+’. What about atheism plus the view that immigration is out of control? I doubt they would support that idea (and nor would I), but why not? It is a positive belief accompanying some people’s atheism after all. Should the third wave not include these sorts of people?


4)  It seems to be exclusionary. McCreight writes:

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift.

I think that I have been arguing that issues of equality, when not confined to meta-issues like conference organisation and so forth are examples of mission drift. Barbara Drescher wrote an excellent post about the issue of mission drift in the skeptical movement. The idea that people like Drescher and I are ‘infesting’ the movement and causing it ‘to die’ is in my view, very unfair. We should be able to talk about these issues, but already ‘Atheism+’ seems unwelcoming to those who question it. What if we disagree about what exactly ‘social justice’ entails? What if we disagree on whether x is or isn’t an instance of homophobia? What if we believe that atheists+ should oppose hate speech laws?


5)  Why ‘Atheism+’ and not ‘Social Justice+’? As McCreight describes it, it seems that the social justice component is the most important part. Why does she not campaign for the idea that there should be a new wave of social justice? “I believe in social justice plus I’m an atheist”. “I fight racism plus I think religion is harmful”. I think there is no substantive difference between this and her position, and yet all it does is sever ties with some strong allies. There are plenty of religious people who fought and are still fighting for some form of social justice: Martin Luther King, Mary Daly, and more recently Giles Fraser, Rowan Williams and Christina Rees (and many more, of course). Why exclude them? If you keep the social justice movement separate from extra baggage like atheism you are less likely to exclude those who would otherwise support your cause.


So what’s the harm? Perhaps there is no harm. If atheism+ appeals to some people, then I think they should go ahead  join in with it. It might however lead to the view that any non-believer who doesn’t identify as an ‘atheist+’ doesn’t really care about social issues. That would be a mistake, in my opinion. It might also put off* some atheists from identifying as an atheist because they disapprove of one or more of Atheism+’s doctrines. I also feel that it lends support to the (sometimes harmful) notion of ‘atheist beliefs’.



* That is, if ‘atheism+’ becomes famous outside of a handful of blogs and lasts for more than a few weeks. I’m sceptical of that, too.

Two points relating to my last post regarding the principles that ought to govern ‘freethought blogs’.

Was I talking about FTB?

Freethought blogger Kylie Sturgess of Token Skeptic comments:

From the comments here and elsewhere, it’s very clear everyone reads this as about Freethought blogs. Vagueness isn’t much help and detracts from your overall message, I think.

Kylie is right; I had FTB in mind while writing the piece, and I do think that, in general, FTB would benefit from my advice (although I don’t think her blog has any of the problems I mentioned).

Here’s why I did not make my article about the network ‘Freethought Blogs’. Firstly, I think that the principles I outlined should apply to any blog that considers itself a ‘freethought’ blog, and not just those on the FTB network. Secondly, I don’t think that the problematic blogs are all on FTB. Thirdly, if I was to make the claim that FTB doesn’t follow what I called the Principle of Rational Discussion (PRD), then commenters may justly expect evidence for that claim. This was a tricky one for me. I could provide one or two instances, or show vast amounts (and there really are vast amounts) of evidence. The former might not convince people that there was a widespread problem, and the latter would be very long and time-consuming.

I therefore preferred the constructive approach, thinking about how bloggers interested in promoting freethought might wish to police their blogs. If someone wishes to see the dirt on FTB (and the other blogs I had in mind), then the evidence has been documented all over the place. My advice would be to go there and look. Look at a contentious issue (especially involving social justice), and watch what happens when someone posts a reasonable disagreement. Better still, disagree yourself and see what happens. Follow the PRD, and see if they follow suit.

Dealing with disagreement

Anyway, here’s one example that dissent is treated less than favourably by one of the FTB leaders. Today PZ Myers posted a YouTube video about former FTBer thunderf00t‘s dismissal from the network. I commented:

I don’t recall thunderf00t saying anywhere that he didn’t support the idea of gender equality. I read him as disagreeing about the idea of extra harassment policies at conferences. You may disagree with him on that point (I do), but his position is quite compatible with a belief in gender equality.

I don't recall thunderf00t saying anywhere that he didn't support the idea of gender equality. I read him as disagreeing about the idea of extra harassment policies at conferences. You may disagree with him on that point (I do), but his position is quite compatible with a belief in gender equality.

The offending comment

I thought that was reasonable enough. Anyway, I tried to respond to another comment a few minutes later and I had been blocked from commenting by the channel owner, PZ Myers. The comment above was my only comment. Worse still, I notice commenters who say things like:

PZ IS ruining the image of atheism dude. He’s allowing the stupid dogmatic ultra feminist viewpoint to take over and divide us.

…have not been banned, and are still arguing hours later. It seems clear to me that PZ allows commenters who make the ‘other side’ look bad, and bans those who argue calmly and reasonably. This creates the illusion that one side is calm and rational (his side) and the other side is ranting and raving, and I say that is dishonest of him to do so.

Edit: For clarification: I am not necessarily talking about the network Freethought Blogs (FTB). I am talking about any blog that wishes to promote freethought.

Edit: Kylie Sturgess of FTB posted a response to me at http://freethoughtblogs.com/tokenskeptic/2012/07/08/on-advice-for-a-freethought-blog-by-notung. She raises good points relating to FTB as a network.


Advice for a ‘Freethought Blog’


What is ‘freethought’, and why might we want to be a ‘freethinker’? Freethought is a reason-based approach to forming beliefs about the world, and a respect for scientific inquiry. It is productive; when we employ reason when assessing claims, or test hypotheses using the scientific method we tend to get useful results. There are other reasons for preferring the freethinking approach but for my purposes I need not worry about them here.

The opposite of freethought is dogma. We want to oppose dogma for a variety of reasons, of which I will just provide two (from Mill’s On Liberty). Firstly we are fallible beings, and if we do not allow our beliefs to be challenged we can never really be sure that they are the correct ones. Secondly, even if the belief happens to be true, granting it the status of dogma avoids a ‘collision with error’ (as Mill puts it). This collision allows us to see the weak points in our position in order to refine it appropriately. It encourages us to learn how to defend our position, and develop a stronger understanding of why what we believe is true.

So what would a ‘freethought blog’ look like? If it is to warrant the name, it would surely practise and promote the approach outlined above, putting reason before all else. It does not matter necessarily what conclusions one is led to by this approach, but rather that the posts one writes attempt to shake off received wisdom and dogma, and endeavour to replace it with a freethinking methodology. A freethought blog would encourage rational discourse in the comments, where arguments are challenged robustly and reasonably, and all opinions live or die by the quality of the reasoning that leads to them.

So I propose what I will call the Principle of Rational Discourse, which will take two forms; one weak, one strong.


The Weak Principle (wPRD):

Stick to the arguments and remain civil.

If we do not stick to the arguments but instead prefer to attack opponents personally, we distract the conversation with irrelevancies. Furthermore, if you or your opponent get needlessly riled up, then emotion takes the place of reason and the quality of the arguments diminishes. There is no good reason not to be civil. If the arguments are poor, then the surest way of demonstrating this is with a reasoned rebuttal, rather than with invective. If they are ‘trolling’, i.e. posting comments of little substance merely to anger people, then they may be justly blocked from commenting in order to prevent the discussion from breaking down and suffering a catastrophic loss of productivity.


The Strong Principle (sPRD):

Concentrate your arguments against the strongest objections to your view.

I call this a ‘strong’ principle since rather than simply granting dissent negative liberty, it involves treating dissent as a positive good. Those who hold a genuine desire to discover the truth always seek out the strongest objections to their position. We must (if we are to obey this principle) be sure to present our opponent’s arguments in their most favourable light, and employ what is known as the ‘principle of charity’. Why should we do this? Suppose somebody makes an argument that you find prima facie ridiculous. Now consider two possibilities: the first is that we have misunderstood their case and end up unintentionally weakening their argument, and the second is that we understood their argument perfectly, but they are a poor reasoner and so their claims are easy to refute. In the former case, we have misrepresented our opponent’s argument and made it easier for us to knock down (this is known as a ‘straw man fallacy’). In the latter case, all we may achieve is that we ‘win’ the argument, and what good does that do? Would it not be preferable to see whether your beliefs withstand a more robust challenge? Thinking in this way can be a learning experience, even if your beliefs remain standing at the end. We gain more of an understanding of our views by examining them in great detail; holding them up to the light to reveal any imperfections, no matter how small. It seems then that the best way to deal with such a situation is to find the interpretation that provides you with the strongest challenge. I would go so far as to say we should help our opponent out – show them how their argument can be improved. As well as being a nice gesture, it demonstrates the sort of intellectual honesty essential for freethought.


My Suggestion

I propose that a ‘freethought blog’ ought to employ wPRD at the very least. However, it seems to me that a blog that is engaged in a disinterested search for the truth should also employ sPRD. We want to be proven wrong. One of my friends at CERN once said that he hoped that they never found the Higgs Boson, since the idea that their current understanding of particle physics was mistaken was a much more exciting prospect than obtaining data that simply confirmed what they already knew. Being wrong is a chance to learn something new about about ourselves, about each other, about the world. We should embrace that – for freethinkers, nothing is sacred.


Some Examples

Name-calling, threats, insults, sarcasm, invective and speculations as to the agenda of a commenter all violate wPRD.

If you are a prominent skeptic leader who recounts an experience and makes a particular moral claim, and then a well-known colleague takes issue with that claim in a way you dislike, try to understand what they mean and what they are arguing. Interpret their argument so that it is as strong as possible (sPRD). Note the points of agreement and the points of disagreement. Ask for clarification if you are not sure. Any examination of their personal characteristics is a waste of time at best (and an ad hominem fallacy at worst), and would violate wPRD. Outline precisely and efficiently why you do not find their objection sound, and await their response to your arguments. That way, a productive discussion might get going, and you may end up convincing many more people than otherwise.

If you are blogging about an issue you are genuinely concerned about, and a skeptic leader raises the idea that the way the issue is being framed might actually be contributing to that issue, then you have two main choices; a rational discussion, or an attack on the skeptic leader. In the former case, the common ground will be more apparent, the differences can be worked out as best as is possible and there is a much greater chance that the issue gets solved to everybody’s satisfaction. In the latter case, you may actually stifle the discussion, and the issue is much more likely to linger and cause more harm that it would have otherwise. It is clear that those who are serious about the issue and not simply seeking drama should prefer the former option.


In Closing 

My advice is intended to be constructive. Comments are welcome and appreciated. Disagreement is encouraged. Please keep all comments civil.

The kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God is the centrepiece argument for apologists such as William Lane Craig. Its power is found in the simplicity of its validity, and in the intuitive plausibility of its premises.


Take Craig’s formulation:


P1: Whatever begins to exist had a cause

P2: The universe began to exist

C: Therefore the universe had a cause


It may only show that the universe was caused by something, but this fact goes a long way towards identifying the God of classical theism (Craig employs a few giant leaps to reach a personal God, but they are outside the scope of this discussion for now). I am always surprised when atheists are ready to concede the conclusion. To allow that the universe had a cause is to admit that which we do not know. After all, it should worry us that we are answering a question regarding the genesis of our universe simply from a logically valid syllogism. It is a synthetic proposition, and Craig requests that we assent to its truth without leaving our armchair.


I will attempt to show, contrary to appearance that this argument is in fact logically invalid if analysed properly. Take the apparent form of the argument:


P1: Everything B is C

P2: u is B

C: u is C


This apparent form is of course logically valid. So what happens if we analyse the premises? Take P1. We either know this is true from experience or by intuition. If experience, we run into many problems.


Firstly, when do we experience something coming into existence, as opposed to the rearrangement of pre-existing matter? When a house is built, we might say that it ‘comes into existence’, but it is clear that we do not mean it in the same sense as we do when we speak of the universe ‘coming into existence’. The house is created from bricks positioned and cemented, and the high-level name ‘house’ is given to the result of this change. Even with personal identity, we ‘come into existence’ at conception (or soon afterwards) but, short of committing to dualism there is nothing created ex nihilo, in the way that we mean when we speak of the beginning of the universe. It is therefore problematic to appeal to our experience when speaking of things ‘coming into existence’.


Secondly, if we speak from experience we must have had a wide and comprehensive enough experience to allow our inductive conclusions to have a sound basis. Even ignoring the previous problems, if we experience things only coming into existence as a result of a cause, these things are necessarily part of a universe, and we may never encounter the birth of a universe. We would have to lay claim to experience informing us ‘whatever begins to exist, even a universe, has a cause’, which we cannot. If we choose to leave out ‘even a universe’, the later conclusion can no longer follow.


The strongest justification for P1 therefore, is intuition. It is inconceivable that, out of nothing something may be created without a cause. Hume answered this by noting that both cause and effect can be conceived independently, and there is no necessary connection between them. This goes some way, but we still may wish to say that accepting the truth of P1 is more rational than holding it false. This is a plausible view, and thus we turn to P2.


Craig employs an argument from the impossibility of an actual infinity of events to support P2. This premise is very unlikely to be denied by an atheist, as it is in line with modern cosmological science. The Big Bang theory, crudely put, postulates both space and time created out of nothing, and so there is little to say about P2 other than that it is true. However it may be said that the sort of beginning that we speak about when we talk of creation ex nihilo is a very different sort of beginning than that which we are familiar with.


Let us work with a reasonable definition of ‘beginning’:

D1: Something ‘had a beginning’ if and only if there was a time t1 at which it did not exist and a time t2 at which it did exist, where t1 temporally precedes t2.


I propose that this definition is intuitively what we mean when we speak of ‘beginning to exist’. Space and time created out of nothing, however does not satisfy this definition. Instead, we might use:

D2: Something ‘had a beginning’ if and only if there was a time t2 at which it did exist, such that there is no time t1 at which it did exist, where t1 temporally precedes t2.


The definitions are distinct; D1 entails D2, but D2 does not entail D1. It seems to me that when we intuit a beginning, the definition we use is D1, as it is the time at which the thing does not exist that forms the clear idea of ‘coming into existence’ that we require. Therefore it is unreasonable to accept only D2 as the definition of ‘beginning’ in P1; we must use D1. Conversely, in P2 we must use D2 as D1 is false in this context. Given that the definitions are not interchangeable, the meanings of the word ‘beginning’ in each premise are different.


Therefore, the syllogism is formally invalid:

P1: Everything B1 is C

P2: u is B2

C: u is C


If this seems incredible, consider an analogous argument:

P1: All Greeks are humans

P2: The Parthenon is Greek

C: Therefore, the Parthenon is human


Here, the word ‘Greek’ is used twice but with different meanings. For an argument in this form to be logically valid the first predicate must be identical to the predicate ascribed to the subject in the second premise.


I propose that this is the mistake in the kalam argument; a false equivocation between two distinct conceptions of ‘beginning to exist’. If the universe had a cause of its existence, we are not in a position to know it, and must instead hope that our empirical understanding of the creation of new universes grows, if indeed our own is not the only universe in existence and if it is not beyond our capacity for scientific inquiry.

Why AV is Better than FPTP

On the 5th of May, we have an opportunity to change the way we vote for MPs. We should prefer the better system – even if AV is not perfect per se, if it is better than FPTP we should vote YES and if it is not, we should vote NO. For a democracy to function properly, it requires a voting system that is disinterested, universal, simple to understand and most accurately conveys the wishes of the voters.

Which System Will Most Hurt the BNP?

I must get this common concern out of the way from the outset. It is self-evident that if a system is biased towards a particular political party or view then it is not as democratic as a system that is not. Our argument should make no claims about the actual results of the voting system – i.e. if one system is likely to result in Party A getting in, unless the system was in some way rigged in favour of Party A then it cannot be objected to on those grounds. We might as well reject democracy completely if we want to argue in that way, and posit a static government controlled by our favourite representatives.

For this reason, both the YES and NO campaigns are wrong to argue that their system will hinder such parties as the BNP. It is irrelevant to the debate to make predictions about possible outcomes, and seriously unprincipled to try to design a system around our most revered and reviled politicians.

The Universality of Democracy

We are all wise enough now to know that a democratic society ought to give everybody the vote, regardless of race, gender, religion and so on. It is also clear that the options must not be limited, i.e. it should not be the case that we can vote for Parties A and B but not C, if C has a candidate in that constituency. It would discriminate against voters who preferred C, and would not be truly universal.

This brings me to the first problem with the status quo. There are certain candidates such that, if we were to vote for them, we would be ‘throwing our vote away’. This is a phrase that is far from uncommon and yet, if we really are throwing the vote away by voting for certain candidates then we really should not vote for them. We should vote for the party that stands a chance to win, either A or B but not C, for then we would be wasting our vote. This is a lot like the case I outlined above, only this time it is not a systemic mandate but rather an effect of that system.

Under AV, if I prefer Party C I can vote for Party C without worrying about the effect of my vote since, if the unthinkable happens and Party C lose, I can still have an effect on the final outcome. The NO campaign claims that this would mean the end of ‘one person, one vote’. The opposite is true. Under FPTP, once the party you voted for is eliminated, your vote is also eliminated. From that point on when, say Labour and Conservative candidates are battling it out, you literally have no say in the outcome. Under AV, even though the vote moves around, it is only in one place at any given time. It is only allocated to your second choice once it is eliminated with your first choice. Therefore, AV abides by ‘one person, one significant vote’ whereby FPTP has ‘one person, one possibly wasted vote’.

The NO Campaign’s Response:

Your vote isn’t ‘wasted’ if your preferred candidate didn’t win – it still gets counted in the same way as everyone else’s. There are winners and losers in every election, and that wouldn’t change under AV. In a seat where the MP wins with 51% of votes under AV, for example, 49% of votes would still be ‘wasted’ by the Yes campaign’s definition.”

[From http://www.no2av.org/why-vote-no/av-myth-busting/ ]

This response misunderstands the point. It is not claimed that if you lose, the vote is wasted. Rather, if you vote for a certain party, the vote is wasted. The NO response fails to address this.

The Simplicity of AV

Under FPTP, if the majority (50%+) vote for Party A, Party A wins. Under AV, if the majority vote for Party A (50%+) , Party A wins. Under FPTP, if all parties fail to win a majority, we have a hung parliament. It would be quite easy to make a NO2AV-style advertisement in which somebody tries very badly to explain this to a classroom of perplexed kids, who muse afterwards about how they cannot understand why the ‘winning’ party with 40% of the vote did not just assume power. However, I prefer arguing my case with actual arguments, which I’m sure will be seen as a deeply subversive tactic.

Under AV, if and only if no party wins a majority, the party with the least votes is eliminated and the lost votes are allocated to the voters’ second choices. This process is repeated until there is a majority.

That’s how simple it is. I never want to hear anybody say that it is complex ever again. I overheard a lady on the train saying (to paraphrase) “the current system is complex enough as it is – most people don’t know how to put an X in the box! Imagine if they had to put numbers in the boxes!” Aside from the egregious disrespect for her fellow citizens, if anybody did struggle with the process of ranking candidates in order of preference, they would be perfectly welcome to only select one candidate. Problem solved.

I Crossed the Line First, and Yet I Did Not Win!”

What is the purpose of voting in a democracy? Is it analogous to a sporting event, such as a horse race? To start with, the rules of a horse race are clear. Cross the line first without disqualification, and you win. Democracy is not a competition. We are not rewarding people for good work, or for crossing any line. We are selecting candidates who best represent the wishes of the voters.

To look at how it does this, I will look at a hypothetical case. It does not matter whether this reflects the current situation or not. If a voting system is fair, it should work across all possible situations. We should not tailor a system to the current political climate.

Suppose a country with three political parties. The North Party, the South Party and the Far South Party. Let us suppose that 40% of voters have south-leaning views, and that half of those voters consider themselves far-south. The remaining 60% are north-leaning, and half of those are far-north.

The votes are cast. The results are: North Party 60%, South Party 20%, Far-South Party 20%.

The North Party assumes power under both FPTP and AV.

Now let’s consider what would happen if, instead 40% of the voters were North-leaning and 60% were South-leaning.

The votes are cast. The results are: North Party 40%, South Party 31%, Far-South Party 29%.

FPTP: North Party wins, even though most voters are South-leaning. Far-South voters wasted their vote, and they should have voted for the South Party, even though they really wanted the Far-South Party.

AV: Far-South voters tended to vote for South Party as second choice, due to their similarities. Those votes pull the South Party up to 60%, and they rightly win the election. In this situation, a North Party government would have only represented a minority. They may have ‘won’ in the sporting sense, but democracy is too important to be treated like a little competition.

In Closing

Please consider which system produces results that most accurately reflect what the voters want. Do not think about the effect it may have on your favourite candidate, but consider a principled look at what democracy is really about. I invite you to share my view that AV is the superior system and, given that fact, we should vote YES in the referendum on 5th May.

Craig asserts that the physical constants in the universe are “finely-tuned” “for” human life. He is right in saying that if the physical constants were different then the universe would also be different, and hence human life wouldn’t exist.

We could say that any set of laws, X produce a result Y. If you change X then you cannot help but change Y. Whatever version of Y you look at, you will always find a corresponding “finely-tuned” set of laws X. Therefore whatever universe one looks at, the laws are finely-tuned to produce it.

Craig however states that the laws are “designed” for human life. I can only think of two ways of knowing this. The first is if we know that God created the universe for human life. We cannot accept this as Craig’s reason, as it would beg the question of the debate. The second way we could know if the universe was designed for the emergence of human life is if we knew human life is what was being “aimed” for. Now I don’t know how Craig could prove this to us, but simply saying that our set of laws X give rise to a universe containing human life Y is not enough.

To illustrate this, imagine dealing five cards at random. What was the chance that your particular hand was dealt? Pretty low! This would only be significant if you knew you were aiming in advance for that particular result.

Furthermore, our fundamental constants are not really perfect for human life. If evolution were re-run, would humans evolve again? We would expect similar organisms with eyes (the eye evolved five times independently), but there would not necessarily be humans. If the physical constants were different (or, incomprehensibly, different laws entirely!) we still might get “life” of another kind, perhaps even unimaginable to us. Even if we did not get any life, there may be possible universes that contain things that are far greater, beyond our wildest speculations.

So, in conclusion, for Craig to rescue his argument he would have to show that the “purpose” of the universe was to produce humans, and that there are no possible universes that contain anything more desirable than human beings. I don’t see how anyone could prove such a thing, and Craig’s argument fails.

Craig formulates the argument in a syllogism:

P1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

P2: The universe began to exist.

C: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Let’s start with P1. How does Craig know this to be true? He does not say [I found elsewhere that his reason is ‘metaphysical intuition’, or the slogan “from nothing, nothing comes”]. There are two kinds of ways we could know P1 is true. If there was a necessary (logical) connection between the predicates ‘begins to exist’ and ‘has a cause’, or by inductive enumeration (“everything that began to exist that we have seen had a cause”). There certainly is no logical connection between ‘begins to exist’ and ‘has a cause’. If we saw things coming into existence uncaused then that would falsify it (Craig’s ‘metaphysical intuition’ presumably comes from the fact that we do not), and therefore P1 can only be known by enumeration.

This fact creates a problem for Craig. If we ask the question “does the ‘whatever’ in P1 include universes?”, then Craig has to answer in the affirmative (if he did not, the conclusion would not follow!). It becomes:

P1: Whatever (including universes) begins to exist has a cause.

The substance has not changed, and you may wonder why I did not throw in a few other things like cats and dogs. The point is to draw attention to the fact that we need to know if universes that begin to exist have causes! If we do not know that fact, then universes cannot be included in P1, and hence the conclusion no longer follows. Do we know of any universes that began to exist? Well according to P2, our universe began to exist. Did our universe have a cause? We know that it did because of the conclusion… We arrive at the question-begging nature of any syllogism where the major premise is an enumeration of particulars. This is an especially potent example, as universes are fundamentally different from anything they comprise. Just because something in the universe is caused to begin existing does not mean the entire universe was also caused to exist.

On to P2. Craig accepts the standard (Big Bang) model of the cosmos, and accepts that Time itself began at the Big Bang. I completely agree with this. He argues that since the notion of infinity contains mathematical absurdities, then an infinite amount of events cannot exist in nature. However, there is no reason to think that an eternally existing universe would contain an infinite amount of events. Since Time forms part of the universe (and is finite), the amount of events would still be finite, even if the universe did not “pop into being out of nothing”.

For a universe to “pop into being out of nothing”, there would have to be a state of nothingness preceding the start of the universe. However, this presupposes a time before Time (remember that Time forms part of the universe and started at the Big Bang), which is self-contradictory. Consider:

  1. Something “began to exist” if there was a time when it did not exist, followed by a time when it did exist.

  2. Something is “eternal” if there was no time when it did not exist, and at every point in time it has existed.

  3. There is no time when the universe did not exist, and at every point in time the universe has existed.

  4. Therefore the universe is eternal, and did not begin to exist.

If this argument holds, then not only does it falsify P2 (and hence demolish the Cosmological Argument), but we can take it further. “God” is defined in many ways, but they invariably include “Creator of the Universe”. If God did not create the universe, then he does not exist (I realise that some gods did not create the world and you can redefine the term in many different ways, but this seems strong enough for now). Consider turning Craig’s argument upside-down, to create the Cosmological Argument for the Non-Existence of God!

  1. Whatever does not begin to exist does not have a cause.

  2. The universe did not begin to exist.

  3. Therefore the universe did not have a cause.

  4. If the universe did not have a cause, then it was not created.

  5. If the universe was not created, the God does not exist.

  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

I have listened to and read a lot of William Lane Craig’s debates (in my opinion he is the best theist debater), and after hearing the same opening statement over and over (to the word!) I have developed my own rebuttal. Comments are welcome – it is the first time I’ve put these arguments forward and hope to learn from helpful criticism. No doubt I’ve made some mistakes, and will correct any that are pointed out (and that I agree with!).

My source will be the opening statement used against Massimo Pigliucci in 1998 as it has been transcribed, and closely resembles that of other debates.

Craig presents five arguments for the existence of God:

  1. The Cosmological Argument

  2. The Fine Tuning Argument

  3. The Argument from Objective Moral Values

  4. The Historical Case for Jesus’ Resurrection

  5. The Argument from Personal Experience

Craig admits that the fifth “argument” is more of a sermon than an argument, and therefore I will not waste any time over it.

Common to all four arguments is the claim that “X is the case, and I can only think that God made it that way”. As soon as we hear this we should be very suspicious. Recall Paley’s Watchmaker, and remember the true cause of lightning. As Humanity’s knowledge increases, the God of the Gaps shrinks in proportion. Craig backs up his claims with a lot of authorities. I will not cite any authorities at all, so that my arguments are as transparent and accessible as possible.