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Cooke-Aijaz Debate: Bill Cooke’s First Rebuttal

Does God Exist? (2002)

Bill Cooke’s First Rebuttal: Super Duper Defended…or Was It Hyper Mega?

The opening statement of Mr Aijaz was a worthwhile, although unsuccessful, effort to retrieve some credibility for a cause long recognised as irrevocably lost by the vast majority of academics. But more than this, his arguments underscored the main point in my opening address: that all this god-talk is nothing more than a vain contrivance to assert for our species some baroque cosmic significance, using the entire cosmos as a backdrop. At the end of Mr Aijaz’s opening address, we have no reason why we should take any god-talk seriously, let alone the claims made on behalf of his particular god.

As happens so often with theists, Mr Aijaz’s argument rests on a foundation built by sleight-of-hand. Before he even begins his formal case for the existence of a God, he has unwittingly smuggled unexamined several highly contestable theistic qualities into the debate. We are first told that God refers to ‘a supernatural being–the personal creator and sustainer of our universe’. Who says? Were I to be arguing with another type of theist, a very different opening assumption would be made. Why should god be conceived of as a ‘personal creator and sustainer of our universe’? Because, he says, this is the image of god generally preferred by Jews, Christians and Muslims. But so what? Why should the views of one section of people from one planet–a people whose changing styles of god-talk can be traced historically–be taken as normative for the entire universe? This is very circular reasoning. Images do not become true simply because lots of people believe them to be true. Ask Ptolemy. Or Mithra. What Mr Aijaz has done is to assume the existence of god before even beginning to justify this assumption, or even recognise its existence.

Having inveigled his god in through the back door, Mr Aijaz then proceeds to argue why the front door should be opened. First in line is the long-discredited First Cause argument. Must have a first cause, can’t have infinite causation, so that first cause is god, and so on and so forth. Of course, this argument does absolutely nothing to prove that his god is responsible for all this efficient causation. Far from being the Super-duper god, it could just as easily have been the work of Hyper-mega, Wow-wee, or any of the others.

And, of course, this argument relies on a proposition of logic, but has little relevance to what science is actually saying about the cosmos. When considering what we now know about activity at the quantum level, all this talk of efficient causes and cosmic will seems positively antideluvian. Quentin Smith, in “Atheism, Theism and Big Bang Cosmology” (1991), shows how Stephen Hawking’s principle of ignorance undermines all this old-fashioned thinking. The principle of ignorance states that we can’t predict tidily either the position or the momentum of any particle emitted from a singularity. This leaves little room for antiquated notions of efficient causes. But while Quentin Smith has provided excellent reasons on this site why such attempts are fallacious, Mr Aijaz has proceeded on gloriously unaware of the irrelevance of his argument. In any event, it is quite arbitrary to insist that the Big Bang turn needs a cause–God–but that God doesn’t. Strato of Lampsacus warned us against this mistake 2200 years ago when he spoke of the universe being entirely sufficient of itself as a source of explanation, without then having to add something else on top.

Mr Aijaz tries to get around this dilemma by positing an arbitrarily-conceived binary. Either the first cause is personal or mechanical. Really? Mr Aijaz then compounds the error of this quite unnecessary binary by insisting that a first cause requires a will. This is one of those anthropocentric conceits that the story in my opening round was designed to counter. Our planet is one among many billions of planets. What possible reason could justify elevating a human quality–‘will’–into a foundational quality for the creation of the universe? That requires an insupportable level of anthropocentric presumption. And even if we permit this to pass unchallenged, then there is still no reason why Super-duper should be given the credit. Maybe Pres-ley has the greater quantity of will? Or maybe it was Hyper-mega, who, unbeknownst to us, sees will as a contemptible quality and the products of it as loathsome excrescences. There is every bit as much evidence for this argument–none–as there is that the Muslim god, the one on page 12 of my dictionary of gods, is responsible for all this.

Having stumbled from one long-discredited and useless argument to another, Mr Aijaz then warms up a design argument of sorts. The order in the universe is very finely-tuned, therefore Super-duper exists. There is, of course, no reason at all why a finely-tuned universe requires Super-duper to exist (or Hyper-mega, Golly-whizzo or any of the others). It might just mean that we live in a finely-tuned universe because, well, it’s finely tuned. Adding Super-duper to the equation, rather than helping explain the issue, actually adds more questions. Why Super-duper? Why not Hyper-mega? Cancers, machine guns and black holes are very finely tuned. Are these the work of Super-duper too? All these arguments were dealt with by David Hume more than two centuries ago.

Mr Aijaz then illustrates once more the weakness of his argument in his conclusion.

My arguments, if sound, show the necessity of a first cause of the universe. The temporality of the universe gives us good reasons for thinking this cause is personal, and the argument from fine-tuning adds further weight to the contention that the first cause is a personal, powerful and intelligent being.

Not a single sentence, or even a single clause, of Mr Aijaz’s conclusion holds any water at all. The necessity of a first cause is an idea from philosophy going back to Aristotle and bears little relation to the Einsteinian/quantum universe we actually live in. Even if we accept for the sake of argument the need for a first cause, there is no remote reason why it should be a god, let alone this god and not that god. The temporality of the universe, if you call 15 billion years temporal, gives us overwhelming reasons for seeing notions of personality written across the whole universe as patently absurd and anthropocentric. But even if we accept the claim for the sake of the argument, there is no remote reason why the personality should turn out to be any god, let alone Super-duper. And the argument from fine-tuning proclaims the ubiquity of the algorithmic laws of the universe; they say nothing whatsoever about powerful, intelligent beings. And even if we accept the claim for the sake of argument, it does nothing to strengthen the case for Super-duper.

We have seen that Mr Aijaz’s arguments for the existence of his god, which he arbitrarily assumes to be the only god, rest on sleight-of-hand, an arcane scholasticism, and an unwarrantable level of anthropocentrist conceit. The world deserves, and needs, better thinking than that.

[Read Imran Aijaz’s First Rebuttal]

[Read the Rest of the Debate]

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