For the past several thousand years, hundreds, if not thousands, of books have been written either attacking or defending the existence of God. In the January 23rd edition of the Campus Times, Evan Keegan attempted to demonstrate the possibility of God in fewer than 1,000 words. The purpose of this op-ed will not be to prove the nonexistence of God, but rather to prove the nonexistence of persuasive force in Keegan’s arguments.
The dominant theme throughout Keegan’s article is the fallibility of science. His first argument takes the following form: there are scientific theories that are believed yet not proven; therefore, we can believe in God, despite the absence of proof. Ignoring his pithy and presumptuous claim about quantum mechanics, Keegan makes a hash of proper science. Nothing is proven in science, and we shouldn’t expect any proof. Instead, scientists make their best guesses to explain natural phenomena. So one need not go so far as quantum mechanics to find unproven theories; look more easily at germ theory or plate tectonics.
Though Evan makes an implicit false assumption, his argument can still be saved. Supposing that explaining with God is similar to explaining with science, we just need to know for what phenomena is God the best explanation? Evan believes the first cause, or origin of the universe, fills this role. Why is God the best explanation over our best understanding of cosmology and astrophysics?
Unfortunately, no argument is made. Instead, Evan assumes that the probability of a scientific explanation being true is equal to that of a God explanation, and the truth is a matter of the readers’ personal decision, a position I presume he wouldn’t hold about an explanation for why a disease spreads or continents move. How is the origin of the universe different from other empirical considerations? We are left in the dark.
Thus far, I believe I have been generous with Keegan’s argument. However a less charitable (and more realistic) reader will have noticed the glaring nonsequitur in the middle of his article. Rather than moving directly from the nature of science to the cosmological argument as I have done, Keegan instead says this: “If modern science can demonstrate to us that there are examples of extraordinary activities with measurable probabilities, theologically, it shouldn’t be surprising that low probability events occur, performed by an omniscient God.” This utterly baffling statement requires explication. Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose I have a computer generate a random number between 1 and 1 trillion. It turns out that it’s a 5. The probability that this event occurred was 1 out of 1 trillion. Contra Keegan, I certainly would be surprised if someone concluded from this that God exists. The existence of events with measurable probabilities does not demonstrate the possibility of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being that exists outside of time and can answer prayers. It would be hoped that, the reader, whether theist or atheist, will share my intuition that Evan’s inference is wildly unreasonable.
In addition to science, Evan also calls into question the utility of logic. “Logical fallacies [sic]”, he believes, demonstrate the limitations of logic. In particular, Zeno’s paradox (presumably) results in an absurd contradiction. Therefore…what? He is not clear what can be inferred from this. A generous interpretation will take Keegan to be saying that we must seek truth from sources other than logic. His proposed alternative candidates are the senses and “theological books such as the Bible.” I agree with one of them. Why we should resort to theological books (and why particularly the Bible) is unsurprisingly left unexplained.
Given Evan’s flatfooted proof for the possibility of God, we may ask what the purpose of his article was. If it was to persuade others of his conviction, then surely no astute reader will have been converted. Or perhaps I have been uniquely uncharitable and mischaracterized Evan’s arguments. If that’s the case, then I sincerely apologize, and I invite him to correct me either in the next Campus Times or personally by email or Facebook. Though I understand this topic is sensitive, I also believe it to be of utmost importance that discussion not be muddled by arguments that are entirely opaque or illogical.
Nguyen is a member of
the class of 2016.