Football, Santa Claus, Free Will and God

Football, Santa Claus, Free Will and God all at a certain level exist . They exist as concepts which affect human behaviour.

At its very basic level, the football concept means that with enough space  any object that rolls, can be turned into an occasion for fun, competition and social bonding. The environment, the human, and the concept interact to produce that which is conceived, a game of football. Something that, along with the singing of Christmas carols, is associated with the informal truce that broke out in Christmas 1914 between British and German soldiers fighting on the Western Front.

The Santa Claus concept, means that children are motivated to behave well in early December and that the adults get to enjoy maintaining a fantasy for children.  The environment, the human and the concept interact to ensure that children get excitement and presents. Some of that which is conceived relates to events in the external world.  But the central part of this concept, the man in the red suit flying through the sky, delivering presents to children all over the world, exists only in fantasy.

Free will is different from football and Santa Claus in that there is arguably a credible case that it exists externally to the concept. A case that physicist Sean Carroll failed to make in the following quote from a speech he made on naturalism in 2012.

The universe is made up of elementary particles that don’t have intelligence, don’t pass judgment, don’t have a sense of Right and Wrong. And the fear is, the existential anxiety is that if that purpose and meaningfulness is not given to me by the universe, then it cannot exist. The good news is that that fear is a mistake. That there is another option: that we create purpose and meaning in the world.

“If you love somebody, it is not because that love is put into you by something outside, it is because you created that from inside yourself. If you act goodness (sic) to somebody, it’s not because you are given instructions to do so, it’s that it’s a choice that you made.

Sean Carroll The case for Naturalism 2012. Transcript from Atheism Analyzed 2015

The bad news is that if materialism is true, and like Sean Carroll I ‘instinctively’ believe that it is, then it is these same elementary particles, that don’t have intelligence, don’t pass judgement, don’t have a sense of Right and Wrong; that we and the rest of the universe are made from.

If we are capable of loving, creating purpose and meaning, and doing good, it is because of how we are made.  Our ability to love, or hate, must come from inside us, but that is not the same as saying that an individual who feels either of these emotions created them.

The individual who exists at any one time is a consequence of nature, nurture, and the environment, including the social and cultural one in which they find themselves.  We do not make ourselves. Everything we do is a consequence of who we are, and the circumstance we find ourselves in with possibly a bit of randomness thrown in.

Bertrand Russell concluded the famous essay in which he introduced the celestial teapot to the world with the following quote.

Man in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny.  The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

This is of course a nonsense statement,  our behaviour is subject at every level to the same laws of nature as the rest of the universe.  What we are is determined at a fundamental level, by the behaviour of elementary particles.

Fundamental particles, structured by natural processes, to produce conscious beings. (I am aware of no group who is arguing that modern day humans, come into existence, by anything other than natural processes, regardless of how they believe our ancestors arose.)

We, if materialism is true, exist as a consequence of natural forces, our conscious   and our subconscious are dependent on them.  The person that exists at any given time is the consequence of these natural forces; and that consequence  decides how to interact with his/her environment.

I think it is possible to argue that if you are aware of what you are doing, if you behave as you want to, or take what appears to you at the time to be the best option given your circumstances: that you the consequence of the natural forces that are the immediate cause of your existence, are acting of your own freewill.

This is a very long way from Bertrand Russell’s miraculous Man, not subject to natural forces, or Sean Carroll’s supernatural you, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, creating ex nihilo love, and goodness.  It is sufficient freewill to enable us to take ordinary everyday responsibility for our actions, but not enough to ensure that anyone has the right to claim, or accuse anyone else of ultimate responsibility, or ultimate blame, for the good or evil that they do.  No-one makes themselves.

A problem arises when we have mutually incompatible desires.  What happens then can feel like anything but freewill. It can feel more like being dragged between two masters.  A feeling that St Paul poetically captured nearly two thousand years ago.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death!  Roman 7:24

Paul famously despised the human rationality that the Greeks venerated. And in doing so eschewed one of the great ‘benefits’ of the human brain. Its ability to confirm for us, the desired truth, that we are doing one thing  when we are actually doing another, and that the evil must therefore lie in the other.

Sean Carroll provides a demonstration of this skill in action in his, ‘The Case for Naturalism,’ the talk he gave in 2012, the one where he propounded the existence of supernatural You, the Being able to create love and goodness, ex nihilo  You can find a transcript here.

Before his claims of the wonder of You, he first attacks Rene Descartes theory of mind and body dualism as unintelligible.  How can an immaterial mind, act causally on the body?  Then he goes on to mention other scientists, whose materialism he approves of.  Eventually he provides as though it is a culmination of the findings of materialism his own theory, not merely of mind/body but of mind/universe.  Magical Us, able without any help from the universe,  to create purpose, meaning, love and goodness.

By concentrating on rational failures, in what was a real attempt by Descartes to understand consciousness, he has managed to hide from himself, the truth that his own beliefs about consciousness have no rational basis. And project all the despised irrationality on to someone who is a member of what his social group has identified as the not we, the superstitious, religious other.

This speech was his introduction to the, Moving Naturalism Forward Workshop that he had organised. In it he identified his reason for holding the workshop.

And yet! Here we are! We’re having a debate. Why are we having a debate? Because, clearly, religion speaks to people for reasons other than explaining what happens in the world.

Most people who turn to religious belief do not do so because they think it provides the best biology or cosmology. They turn to religious belief because it provides them with purpose and meaning in their lives. With a sense of Right and Wrong. With a community. With hope.

“So if we want to say that science has refuted religion, we need to say that science has something to say about those issues.

Sean Carroll The case for Naturalism 2012. Transcript from Atheism Analyzed 2015

He identifies religion as a belief held for social reasons, and his purpose in this gathering was to attempt to replace religious socially held beliefs with science. Or although he clearly didn’t see it that way, to turn science into another religion.

Human Beings bond on shared beliefs. Beliefs which are held with a high level of emotional certainty. Scientific ideas need to be falsifiable, this makes them inherently unstable, incapable of giving certainty. Problems arise when people confuse the two.

Emotional certainty is possible, rational certainty about things other than logical necessity, is not. When people belong to social groups that demand that their core beliefs are held with rational certainty, then there is a problem.

A problem which the human brain, the organ which as Voltaire had it, has the wonderful ability to enable a man to believe exactly whatever he wants to believe, seems to have special adaptations for dealing with – an innate deceiver.

For compelling social reasons Sean Carroll needs to believe, that his emotional certainty, is rational, and  to convince others of the same.  This unleashes a mechanism for deception of the self.

Bobby Henderson noted a similar response among Scientific Creationists, and produced a brilliant anthropomorphism, for this particular socially induced form of confirmation bias – The Flying Spaghetti Monster.  And Sean Carroll has been well and truly noodled.

Which brings us back again to the question of freewill. Sean Carroll wants to produce a rational argument, to  support his emotional belief. He is enabled by unconsciously operating mechanisms, to deceive himself that he has actually done so.  He is not aware that he is deceiving himself.  For freewill to be operating it is not enough that Sean Carroll is emotionally satisfied with what he is saying.  He has to understand what he is doing.

So no he is not operating of his own free will. The Flying Spaghetti Monster made him do it.

Of course the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not just inflict itself on atheists. It affects the religious also, where it masquerades as faith.  Dr Wendy Dackson who blogs at Past Christian, describes her own relationship with the imposter, a ‘being’ whose reality is a lot nastier than Bobby Henderson’s pastopomorphic projection.

Because I did not “lose” my “faith” (as you define it, not as I do).  I know precisely where it is.

It’s in the corner, lying quietly, where I shot it with a tranquilizer dart to prevent it from doing any harm while I examine it and decide what should be done with it.

Wendy Dackson  What happened to my ‘Faith’ 2015

The socially induced certainty that misidentifies as faith, has the potential to be every bit as destructive, as Dr Dackson alleges. Those who are taken in by this dead ringer, lose touch with reality. Their certainty leaves them unable to connect with or understand the view of others. Being deceived into believing in the integrity of their socially held views, they can see  folly, or evil only in the other.

Those without fear have no need for courage, and those who are certain have no need for faith. Real faith can only be held in uncertainty.

Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury, demonstrated many times that the understanding that faith must be held in uncertainty, frees you to understand the truth found in the views of others, even others opposed to the beliefs that you hold. And in recognising similarities between his own beliefs and the belief of the other, he was able to form bonds of understanding.

He demonstrated this in an article he wrote for the Guardian in 2004, on a dramatization of Philip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials.  Rather than being threatened by the death of The Authority, the God Figure, in this play, he was able to acknowledge that there was truth in Pullman’s critique of religion.

If the Authority is not God, why has the historic Church so often behaved as if it did indeed exist to protect a mortal and finite God? What would a church life look like that actually expressed the reality of a divine freedom enabling human freedom?

Rowan Williams A Near Miraculous Triumph 2004

He also noted something else, that was portrayed in the play. The role that power and the desire for power, has in the trampling of the rights of the individual.

Repressors and would-be liberators are equally merciless to the individual; that is why Lyra’s life is at risk from both sides.

Rowan Williams. A Near Miraculous Triumph   2004

Yet the disastrous affair of the failed Anglican Covenant shows that Rowan Williams was also Spaghetti Monstered.  He didn’t believe in a God who needed to be protected. For him Pullman’s Authority equivalent was The Anglican Church. The Anglican Covenant was an attempt to protect the unity of the Anglican Church, with enforced agreed sanctions, even though he wasn’t calling them sanctions, on those branches of the Church, that failed to conform. An attempt to protect a mortal and finite institution.

Apparently failing to understand that this agreement, which thankfully wasn’t accepted, would have handed power over to the faithless believers, they who hold their ‘truths’ in certainty.

It was particularly shameful, because he himself believed that homosexual relationships were compatible with Christian belief, and that those who were opposed to gay marriage were wrong. Yet to prevent a church schism he was willing to tell the LGBT  minority  in the Church that they must respect the views of those within the ‘family’ who held that they were disgusting.

Williams’ fall from grace was linked exactly where Pullman placed the problem – in power structures. And to hold a particular power structure together he was willing to allow the church to continue to discriminate against one group of people. In fact to insist that it happened, even in branches of the Church, where the majority wished to be fully accepting of that difference.

This call to dogma would have if it was accepted, given the strong feelings that it invoked, probably have done the very thing that it was meant to prevent. It could have created schisms, and turned what remained of the Anglican Church into just another sect. Another sect whose beliefs separated them from the society around them, but where Church Leaders would be big fish in  the small pool, thus created. A place where people could have their craving for emotional certainty fulfilled, and where they could be held together by the condemnation of the evil other.  In other words it would be a church held together, not by the love of God, and neighbour, but one held together by the power of faction.

Rowan Williams was, in the hellish position of being in a situation of authority in a church that was tearing itself apart. This reduced rump church  would have been a more comfortable church to have been leading.

Give people certainty, and an enemy to oppose, and you create a faction.  While at a conscious level this is not the kind of church Williams wished to lead, it is one that he would have been able to lead.

And in this, ‘O wretched man that I am,’ scenario the very intelligent Rowan Williams, supported the ‘Anglican Covenant,’ a document that would probably have provoked schism – as a solution to schism.  What his emotional health needed was in opposition to what his rational mind desired. And he plumped for a solution that met his emotional needs.

There are other interpretations, but I believe that Rowan Williams is not only intelligent but also honest, and that therefore he must have been deceived.

Materialist that I am I don’t think that you need to invoke a supernatural presence to explain how this happened.

Where there is a conflict between the best interests of a person, and their own beliefs about what they should do, it would be no surprise to  an evolutionist to find that there is a mechanism in existence to persuade people that they are doing one thing, when they are actually doing the very opposite.  That a particularly vicious strain of confirmation bias would be invoked, one that because it is using a persons own intelligence to deceive them, would actually be more successful in the very intelligent.  An innate deceiver.

The saying, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ is well known. In the mythology of ancient times, this was blamed on the Prince of this World, the devil.  We have discarded the mythology that enabled this belief. Fundamentalists still pay lip service to the reality of a devil, but being blinded by the very same fellow, they are unable to see his tentacles operating through their own certainty.

The old mythology of the devil, created another, on whom to blame the world’s evil.  A better response than blaming people.

 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Ephesians 6:12

The old mythology didn’t tell you how to recognise someone that was in the grip of the deceiver.  The knowledge that the deceiver operates through confirmation bias, gives you a place to start when you are looking to detect it in operation.

You are looking for very simple mechanisms, underlying what may be very fluffed out and convoluted arguments.

Rowan Williams for instance  used the argument from inappropriate guilt.

But who needs the Covenant, it might be said? There’s one very short answer to that. Some bits of our Communion represent needy and isolated parts of the Christian world.  They need relationships. They need the assurance that we won’t drive them into difficult positions. They need to know that we take them seriously enough to engage in conversation with them. And that’s part of what keeps them going and what makes them strong.  It’s very interesting that some of the parts of the Communion that have already said yes to the Covenant are exactly that kind of church.

Rowan Williams Archbishop: Why the Covenant Matters 2012

We must do things the way the poor and needy want them done. Because if we don’t give the poor and needy the power of veto over us, and it is  power that is being demanded not conversation; they will think we don’t take them seriously.

Note that we would not be giving this power to the actual poor and needy, we would be giving it to those who are in leadership positions within those communities. And in the case of LGBT rights strengthening the hand of those who wish to oppress the genuinely poor and needy.

Rowan Williams provides a rationalisation, based on the argument from inappropriate guilt. Sean Carroll, in the following quote, uses a different mechanism to support his socially held belief, truth by circular argument. He defines natural as identical with real, and God as supernatural and therefore not real.  So therefore God does not exist.

 By “naturalism” we mean the simple idea that the natural world, obeying natural laws, is all there is. No supernatural realm, spirits, or ineffable dualistic essences affecting what happens in the universe. Clearly the idea is closely related to atheism (I can’t imagine anyone is both a naturalist and a theist), but the focus is on understanding how the world actually does work rather than just rejecting one set of ideas.

Sean Carroll  Moving Naturalism Forward Discover Magazine  2012

It is not lack of imagination, but rationalising from his basic premises that there is only one reality, and that God does not belong in that reality,that leads him to believe that naturalism is incompatible with theism.

Of course any theist who understood the word natural to be identical with the word real, would argue that God was natural.  This peculiar definition has nothing to say about empirical reality.

Richard Dawkins presented in ‘The God Delusion,’ an unintentionally entertaining riff, on this simple argument.  For Dawkins, because only the natural exists, any real creator, wouldn’t be supernatural, but only superhuman, and therefore couldn’t, by his definition, be God. This argument of course has nothing to say about reality, only what names you should give to different parts of it. My entertainment was compounded by the fact that he then went on to argue that he was agnostic about  this God, which by definition couldn’t exist.

The Innate Deceiver that says, ‘Yes,’ to its devotees, doesn’t appear to be a very complex adaptation.  Where you see certainty expressed, when you got through the fluff, there you  are likely to find it sitting naked and waving its noodly appendage, an argument that has only to fool the logic blinded. It gets away with it because those who agree with the deceived are unable to see any flaw in an argument that is so, to them anyway, self-evidently true. While those who see the flaw become outraged and think that the person making the argument is a truth denier.  Where the opposition are also fully certain members of the noodled brigade, then this effect is magnified.

So far I have considered the real existence of football and Santa Claus.  These have real effects on the world, only because they are held as concepts.  Free will exists independently of the concept, and in a much more limited way than the concept suggests. Our behaviour is determined by the behaviour of the elementary particles that make us.  But as at any given time we are just a particular pattern of the elementary particles that form us, if we understand the truth about what we are doing, and could if we wanted to do differently, then we are acting of our own free will.  Deceiver instincts which cut short this process, must have had, at least in the past, an average positive effect on reproductive fitness.  However the people who are affected by them, have had there free will compromised. They do not know what they are doing.

As to the existence of God, well that does really depend on how you define the term. And I am going to plump for Ultimate Reality, that which brings us into being.  And as we clearly exist that Ultimate Reality must exist.

This is a concept of God, that Richard Dawkins would of course object wasn’t God at all, just a bad metaphor; like Stephen Hawkings, ‘Mind of God.’ And while I would agree with him about Hawking’s phrase, Professor Hawking, is an atheist and is not talking about anything that could reasonably be conceived of as a mind, I don’t think that my definition qualifies as a bad metaphor.

For Sean Carroll the Ultimate Reality, appears to be ‘Elementary Particles,’ and he has a problem, because it is extremely hard to believe that they give us purposefulness and meaning.  To resolve this problem he resorts to the nonsense that is ‘magical you,’ able to create love, goodness, etc., ex nihilo.

It is extremely hard to believe that our experience of consciousness is a product of simple interacting natural forces; that we came into existence through non-purposeful processes. That we are not in fact the consequence of purposeful action, by an Ultimate Reality with a non-metaphorical mind.  So difficult that Sean Carroll’s need to believe this has triggered an innate deceiver mechanism. Richard Dawkins has solved the problem, by creating the extremely bad metaphor of the purposeful selfish gene.  However just because it is hard to believe, and that proponents of the idea have fallen prey of the noodly appendage, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. It doesn’t mean that it is true either.

Richard Dawkins made an argument in the God Delusion that is, although he didn’t realise it, an ontological argument for the existence of God.  He had meant it as an demonstration, that his atheism was rational.

He said that he was logically agnostic, because it couldn’t be proved that God does not exist, but that the existence of God was so improbable, that his existence was no more probable than the celestial teapot, or fairies at the bottom of his garden.  So his agnosticism was compatible with his de facto atheism.

Of course if he is right that there is any probability of God at all, and reality is infinite, then he has just proved that God exists.  But atheists needn’t worry because in writing, ‘The God Delusion,’ he, or probably more accurately his subconscious, took care to define God in such a way that his existence would be a logical impossibility.

The logical position on the existence of an actual, ‘Mind of God,’ is agnosticism.  We really don’t know. And while Richard Dawkins in ‘The God Delusion’ looked forward to a time when we would know for certain, the only way that will be fulfilled is if there is a Mindful God.

What there is evidence for is that any God that actually exists is not all good, and omnipotent.  A point made rather well by Bertrand Russell in the following quote.

I will say further that, if there be a purpose and if this purpose is that of an Omnipotent Creator, then that Creator, so far from being loving and kind, as we are told, must be of a degree of wickedness scarcely conceivable. A man who commits a murder is considered to be a bad man. An Omnipotent Deity, if there be one, murders everybody. A man who willingly afflicted another with cancer would be considered a fiend. But the Creator, if He exists, afflicts many thousands every year with this dreadful disease.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

The First World War army chaplain, and Anglican priest, G.A. Studdert Kennedy, argued that belief in the omnipotence of God embittered people. Reading Wendy Dackson’s post on Language, where she protests strongly against the delusional use of words like love and goodness, to describe that which Bertrand Russell described as fiendish, you can see how the notion of omnipotent (magical) God, could leave those who are unwilling to go down the path of the noodled deceiver deeply angry with God.  And also angry with those reality deniers within the Church.

We seem to instinctively believe that where there is function there is also purpose. Some of the atheists who argue most strongly against the existence of a God, are driven to locate this feeling that there is purpose where it logically cannot exist.

It is logically possible that the universe and even the multiverse are a work of purposeful creation, the act of a mindful Creator.  It is even possible that that Creator is omnipotent in the sense that he holds all the power that it is possible to have. But traditional Western theology used omnipotence to mean something different from this.  They to honour God made Him the monstrous fiend outlined by Russell, magic god, constrained only by logic. The God that is not there.





Evolution is Immaterial

probability of god


When Richard Dawkins claimed that you can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything, he was of course wrong.  It is for instance perfectly rational to be certain that square circles, and spherical cuboids definitely do not exist.

So it is with the God of, “The God Delusion.” He cannot, by definition, exist.

I shall define the God Hypothesis more defensibly: their exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us.

Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007

For Richard Dawkins a necessary part of the definition of all gods is that they are supernatural, and by supernatural he means magic – the possessor of powers which by definition do not exist.

Skyhooks  – including all gods – are magic spells.

 Richard  Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 

With this definition of God there is no reason to beat about the bush:

An Ontological Argument for the Non-existence of God.

  • Supernatural beings are fictional beings, with fictional powers.
  • God is a Supernatural being.
  • Therefore god is a fictional being with fictional powers.

See also the God Delusion Paraphrased for Reluctant  Readers.

This syllogism demonstrates that it is possible to define God in such a way that he exists only in the mind.  It does not  prove anything at all about whether or not the universe is a work of intentional creation.

Richard Dawkins claimed that his position on the existence of God was the rational one – Temporary Agnosticism in Practice, or T.A.P.; which he compared with what he alleged was the irrational position of, Harvard professor, Stephen Gould, whom he accused of arguing for  Permanent Agnosticism in Principle, or P.A.P.

The view that I shall defend is very different: agnosticism about the existence of God belongs firmly in the T.A.P category.  Either he exists or he doesn’t.  It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability.

 Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.70

It seems fairly obvious from this quote that Richard Dawkins had failed to note that God as defined by him has a zero probability of existence.  And he didn’t feel the need to revise what he had previously written after making the following claim.

That you cannot prove God’s non-existence is accepted and trivial, if only in the sense that we can never prove the non-existence of anything.  What matters is not whether God is disprovable (he isn’t) but whether his existence is probable.

 Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.77

This claims contained within this paragraph can be formed into  a syllogism:

  • The existence of God is a, not very probable, possibility.
  • We can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything.
  • Therefore we are never going to absolutely prove the non-existence of God.

So I am afraid dear atheist, that if these premises were true, and that if Richard Dawkins was also correct in his assertion that  one day you might be able to give up rational agnosticism; it would be because you would have acquired absolute proof for the existence of God.

But cheer up, because, as any philosopher is likely to tell you, absolute proof for the existence of anything is also very difficult, and with the right definition of the word existence, maybe even impossible to achieve.

Julian Bagini explains in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, the meaning of an atheist’s commitment to naturalism:  ‘What most atheists do believe is that although there is only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical out of this stuff come minds, beauty, emotions, moral values – in short the full gamut of phenomena that gives richness to human life.’

Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain.

 Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.34

A materialistic definition of  the word existence means that it applies only to physical stuff, i.e. matter and energy.  Naturalism is the belief that everything other than matter and energy is an emergent property of the physical. Using this definition, many things whose reality we experience as primary, are immaterial emergents: e.g. pain, pleasure, love, consciousnes. And as the title informs you, evolution is also an immaterial reality; an emergent consequence of the interaction of matter and energy.

Boxing Ultimate Reality

Anselm‘s Ontological argument, made nearly one thousand years ago, produced a definition of God that made it impossible to conceive that God did not exist.  By describing God as that than which no greater can be imagined to exist, and arguing that existence was a necessary part of absolute greatness, Anselm made it impossible to meaningfully conceive that God, as defined by him, did not exist.  Because at the very moment you conceived the great being you were thinking of not to exist, you would no longer be thinking of God. See also Anselm’s Teapot.

Richard Dawkins, was  unimpressed with Anselm’s ontological argument, but enjoyed Australian philosopher Douglas Gasking’s ironic parody of it.

1. The creation of the world is the most marvellous achievement imaginable.

2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.

3. The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.

4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.

5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being namely, one who created everything while not existing.

6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.

7. Therefore, God does not exist. 

Richard Dawkins The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 p.107-108

Christian apologist William Lane Craig, like Richard Dawkins believes this argument to be incoherent.

Ironically, this parody, far from undermining the ontological argument, actually reinforces it! For a being who creates everything while not existing is a logical incoherence and is therefore impossible: there is no possible world which includes a non-existent being which creates the world.

William Lane Craig  Dawkins’ Critique of the Ontological argument  2009

The irony does not necessarily lie where William Lane Craig thinks it does. He believes that God is Immaterial.  Richard Dawkins naturalistic definition of reality, means that the immaterial is always emergent from the material, and therefore cannot be the first cause. So when Richard Dawkins hears believers claiming God, as the Immaterial First Cause, what he hears is, within his worldview the rambling of fools. Anselm who, like William Lane Craig, started with a different first premise, would have thought exactly the same of Richard Dawkins’ naturalism.

There is an awful lot of reality about, and to interact with our environment and society effectively, it is necessary to form models of it. Different models of reality can be  effective, in allowing those who hold them to function successfully. Acknowledging that your model may not be all encompassing, and that those holding alternative models are not necessarily truth deniers is rational. It may however result in accusations such as, bending over backwards to almost supine lengths; an allegation Richard Dawkins made against Stephen Gould, in The God Delusion.

Deductive reasoning can give the appearance of certainty, but it is only as good as the premises that you start with.  And where the question is about reality rather than definition, then the premises can never be  absolutely certain.  As Douglas Adams had his eponymous  detective, Dirk Gently, point out: all that is required for the impossible to be true, is for there to be something that we don’t know about.

 Alvin Plantinga, the author of a modern version of the ontological argument, the one that William Lane Craig accepts as definitive;  acknowledges that it doesn’t provide proof of the existence of God,  because it cannot be proved that its central premise, that the existence of a maximally great being is possible, is true.

But here we must be careful; we must ask whether this argument is a successful piece of natural theology, whether it proves the existence of God. And the answer must be, I think, that it does not. An argument for God’s existence may be sound,after all, without in any useful sense proving God’s existence. Since I believe in God, I think the following argument is sound:

  • Either God exists or 7 + 5 = 14
  • It is false that 7 + 5 = 14
  • Therefore God exists.

But obviously this isn’t a proof; no one who didn’t already accept the conclusion, would accept the first premise. The ontological argument we’ve been examining isn’t just like this one, of course, but it must be conceded that not everyone who understands and reflects on its central premise — that the existence of a maximally great being is possible — will accept it. Still, it is evident, I think, that there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational in accepting this premise. What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability. And hence it accomplishes at least one of the aims of the tradition of natural theology.

Alvin Plantinga   The Ontological Argument  2001

Alvin Plantinga is a theist, that is someone who believes that Ultimate Reality is a maximally great being – God. He admits that the existence of a maximally great being may be impossible, that is have a probability of zero.  But argues that if you accept the premise that the existence of a maximally great being is possible, then you must rationally also believe that the existence of that being is certain.

Richard Dawkins worldview is naturalism, that is that everything that is real, is natural; and that therefore if there is any creative consciousness lurking behind the observable universe, it like the only consciousness he has any direct evidence for, his own, will be natural.  Within this worldview, supernatural means unreal, having no possible existence outside the imagination.  So when Richard Dawkins defines God as a supernatural being, he has defined God in such a way that he cannot possibly exist.

Richard Dawkins should rationally therefore have classified himself as a 7 on his own scale of degrees of belief in the existence of God; someone who is absolutely certain that God does not exist.  To do this would have put the spotlight on his own belief about the nature of reality, and mean that The God Delusion would have been a book investigating the rationality of his own atheism.  Not nearly as much fun as ridiculing the beliefs of others.

Richard Dawkins, classifies himself as somewhat less than certain of the non-existence of God,  arguing that anything you can imagine to exist, must have a possibility of actually existing. Therefore God’s existence is possible, but very improbable. He in fact argues that God is so improbable that we can be confident of his non-existence.

What both Alvin Plantinga and Richard Dawkins convoluted arguments seem to be aiming for, is the boxing up of reality, so that it cannot disturb their emotional certainty. The gift of confirmation  bias, the instinct that likes to say yes, means that they are likely to be largely unaware of the dishonesty of their position; and will therefore be able to present themselves to the world, without any hint of irony, or need of acting skill, as men of integrity.

And while Richard Dawkins definition of God as supernatural should have meant that he didn’t need to go to all the trouble he did; the god that he is arguing against isn’t magic god, but the maximally great being whom Alvin Plantinga claims as God.

Most of us who believe in God think of Him as a being than whom it’s not possible that there be a greater. But we don’t think of Him as a being who, had things been different, would have been powerless or uninformed or of dubious moral character. God doesn’t just happen to be a greatest possible being; He couldn’t have been otherwise.

Alvin Plantinga   The Ontological Argument  2001

Radical Christian theologian Peter Rollins, argues that this God haunts modern secular society, that the problem with atheists is that they aren’t atheistic enough, and that,the scandalous message of the Gospel is that freedom from the sovereign God, in all its manifestations, is possible”.


Rupturing the Box

box cross


  • You are sitting in a bar in Belfast.
  • In walks a seven foot purple gorilla with a submachine gun.
  • What do you call him?
  •  Sir!

As this joke illustrates there can be very good reason for treating the powerful with respect. In scary circumstances our rationality is likely to fail us, and at that point a forelock tugging instinct, is one that could increase our chance of survival.

If you are forced to remain in the pub with the gorilla, then the lizard brain effect of fear, will increase your chances of not surviving the encounter. One mechanism for reducing the fear, is to believe that the gorilla has qualities other than power and that these qualities are such that he doesn’t want to harm you, if he doesn’t have to.

The god of the ontological argument, the greatest thing that can be conceived not to exist by the godless fool of Anselm’s argument, is the purple gorilla, made maximally great: i.e. omnipotent, omniscient and completely good. Someone that  as Alvin Plantinga  tells us, we don’t think of, ‘as a being who, had things been different, would have been powerless or uninformed or of dubious moral character’.

This is where the scandal of Christianity lies, the difference between the gospel message and the religion of Christendom.

At the very heart of the Christian message is the cross, and the young man on it, an image of maximal greatness, that is the very antithesis of everything that the ontological argument, and our natural instincts imagine greatness to be.  1 Corinthians 1: 22-25

 In the life of one an outcast and a vagabond on earth,
In the common things He valued, and proclaimed of priceless worth,
And above all in the horror of the cruel death He died,
Thou hast bid us seek Thy glory, in a criminal crucified.
And we find it – for Thy glory is the glory of Love’s loss,
And Thou hast no other splendour but the splendour of the Cross.
For in Christ I see the martyrs and the beauty of their pain,
And in Him I hear the promise that my dead shall rise again.
High and lifted up, I see Him on the eternal Calvary,
And two piercèd hands are stretching east and west o’er land and sea.
On my knees I fall and worship that great Cross that shines above,
For the very God of Heaven is not Power, but Power of Love.

G.A. Studdert  Kennedy  High and Lifted Up   taken from  Rhymes Published 1929