Reviewing Randal Rauser’s “The Swedish Atheist…” Chapter 17


Chapter 17: A Giant Mickey Mouse Balloon and the Keebler Elves
Now that we’ve made it past the halfway point, we’re clearly over the hill. It’s only downhill from here. I mean that in both senses. The apologetics up to this point has been strained, and the only thing that is certain is that it can only become absurd from here on out. The alternative is, well, that Randal proves the existence of God. I for one am pretty certain that’s not going to happen, at least not with a book such as this.

There is a lot to cover this time, so let’s get cracking.
Last time Randal posited that God is an answer, or explanation, and what’s more, he affirmed God is a simple answer.
In this chapter he takes to task Sheridan’s challenge to explain how that’s even possible. Randal begins by pondering:

“Consider one of the most basic question there is: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ That’s a question that can be answered with the same two option we use when explaining the movement of … keys. Is the origin of the universe best explained by a personal agent cause or an impersonal event cause?”

Randal then states that “asking whether the universe has a personal cause is not hopelessly arbitrary. Rather, it’s a simple and very reasonable question.”
Yes, it is. It’s a simple and reasonable question for those who ignore reality. The reality is, the universe appears to govern itself, and function, according to very specific natural laws (or rather, what we call natural laws).
Randal’s plea that the question of whether the universe has a personal cause is, in fact, arbitrary because of Occam’s Razor. Thus far, the physical observations of nature’s so-called “laws” yield us with enough explanatory power that God simply isn’t needed to explain any of it. Therefore, why would we jump to the conclusion that, knowing God isn’t required to explain anything within the universe, that he must be used to explain the universe? This is not a logical deduction.
Just as was French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace’s response, when questioned by Napoleon, why his celestial mechanics didn’t include God. Laplace merely replied, “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.” Or, in English, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”[1]
Randal is, once again, simply allowing his preconceived biases to interfere with his reasoning. The question, of whether or not a the universe has a personal cause, only makes sense to ask if you’ve rejected the very premise of naturalism. But looking at the universe, there is no reason to assume the universe is governed by anything other than natural phenomenon. So the question must ignore both the fact that the universe functions naturally without any apparent signs of an underlying supernatural metaphysics, and the fact that science, and the observation and measurement of these physical laws, yields all the explanation we need to form better theories about the existence of the universe. As such, this shows that the question is arbitrary, and what’s more, based on a bias that ignores the evidence.
What I find interesting is how the question itself focusses on the lack of information—that since we do not know (yet) how the universe came into existence—it must be God. That is, of course, a possibility. But it’s an arbitrary possibility given what we know, and until there is convincing evidence for a sound metaphysics which can explain the universe as accurately as standard physics, there is no need to assume the natural world is the product of any higher order of metaphysics. Basically, the question wants to use our ignorance as a reason to posit God. But then it simply becomes a God of the gaps type argument. If cosmologists and physicists were to discover tomorrow that the universe was formed, for example, by quantum fluctuations, and had evidence to support it, this would effectively render the Prime mover argument theologians like to latch onto in their ignorance obsolete.
Meanwhile, the philosopher can still ask the question, as long as they do not pretend it’s a “very reasonable question.”
Arbitrary questions which ignore the state of the evidence cannot be considered entirely reasonable. Additionally, since Occam’s Razor says that the simplest explanation is more probably correct, then why posit God—which is additional information on top of the already collected information we do have? It’s superfluous, so the honest philosopher must side with Laplace’s sentiment, God is simply not a hypothesis which is required to explain things.
Randal then takes to task arguing against Sheridan’s point that the universe could just exist, full stop. Randal then launches into a horrible analogy, and reveals that he doesn’t understand the first thing about causality.
He gives the example of spotting a helium filled Mickey Mouse balloon floating above the woods. He asks, “Wouldn’t you wonder how that balloon got there? … Surely you must agree there is a reason the balloon exists.”
Well, the balloon exists because somebody made it exist. Nobody is contending whether or not balloons need creators. But this is the problem with Randal’s reasoning, even balloons exist in temporal space and time. Only things that exist within the known universe have a direct relationship with space and time, and therefore share causal relationships. 

Outside of space and time, however, it makes little sense to talk about causal events, because with no time, there can be no events to mark on a timeline, and no space to put them in.
If for example, in our universe, we roll a marble, it will roll until it loses its kinetic energy and stores it as potential energy, or it will roll until crashed into the other marble, and thus the transfer of kinetic energy, and will propel the stationary marble.
This represents our thinking of causal events according to a scale of time. Event A, the rolling marble, impacts with the stationary marble, event B, and the transfer from potential to kinetic energy causes the stationary marble to move. We can plot it out according to the events as they are caused. But without time, what sense does it make to talk about events A, B, or C?
Another problem with Randal’s reasoning is that he takes for granted that the universe appears orderly. Things happen in order of A causes B, but at the quantum level, events are random and order does not matter. The best analogy for this random, arbitrary, nature of the quantum realm is best explained by the analogy of Schrödinger’s cat. 

If you aren’t familiar with the example, Schrödinger painted a visual analogy for the strange randomness of quantum events by asking us to think about a cat inside a box. The cat is alive when we put it in the box. But inside the box is some poison, and when the box is closed the poison is released, killing the cat. But according to quantum mechanics (specifically the Copenhagen interpretation)[2] the cat is both dead an alive (at the quantum level). 

Thus, if we opened the box at any given time, we might find the cat dead or alive, or both simultaneously. Now, a classic understanding of Einsteinium physics makes it difficult to understand how this can be, since we expect cause to function as one event impacting another. But at the quantum scale, this does not follow. Events at the quantum level are often spontaneous, that is, they appear uncaused.
This is one of those cases of science being counter intuitive. Our intuition often proves to be inaccurate, and due to the strange nature of the quantum our intuition of reality isn’t always precise enough to be relied on without any supporting evidence. 

It seems that Randal is experiencing a case of intuiting the wrong questions based on his apparent ignorance of a specific field of science. That is to say, contrary to what Randal may think, God is not a reasonable question. It’s simply a case of his intuition failing him. 

A good question would be to ask whether or not Loop Quantum Gravity is a feasible theory.[3] And, if so, how would we go about testing it? Not understanding how quantum theory complicates causal events or to misunderstand the framework in which causal events can happen, is no reason to assume “God did it.”
Randal then asks us to blow the balloon up to the size of the universe, and then asks is the question any less interesting, and to tell the truth, yes it is. It not only is predicated on the same wrongly intuited thinking, but it shows once again that Randal strong suit isn’t physics.
Randal’s level of understanding of physics is, sorry to say, simply abysmal; and that’s putting it mildly. It doesn’t get much worse than when he says things like

“Whether we’re talking about the balloon or the universe, we have a contingent material object that requires a cause for its existence.”

Actually, appalling might be a better word than abysmal. The above comment could only come from someone who has simply ignored the entire field of quantum mechanics and misunderstood classical physics, because it’s not a statement any type of trained physicist would make. It’s not even a statement that I would make, knowing what little I know about physics.
Let me reformulate Randal’s example to show how horrible it is. Imagine we have a ball. We drop it. Gravity pulls on the ball and it falls down. Cause and effect, right? Now imagine that we enlarge the ball to the size of the whole universe. Well, obviously, someone must have dropped it, right?
But this is Randal’s thinking here. But does gravity exist outside of the physical universe? Probably not (not being an expert in the field however, don’t take my word for it). Just like time may not exist outside of our universe, at least not as we understand it.
Randal then claims the universe is a “contingent entity” and says that because of this it is meaningful to seek an explanation for its existence.
Contingency, in the way Randal is using it, simply means: the absence of necessity; the fact of being so without having to be so.
What I fail to see however, is why do so many theologians love to talk about the contingency of God and the universe, but then demand that the universe must be explained but that God, for whatever reasons, is incomprehensible?
It seems to me a double standard is at work. But the double standard, as used by the apologist, is merely a ploy to avoid the problem of infinite regress that occurs when one demands that something contingent be explainable. If something did cause the universe to come into being, then what caused it to come into being, and so on and so forth? 

The only way to avoid the regress is to flat out assert that God has always been, and that nobody created him. This type of assertion is what is commonly known as a cop-out. 

Also, I have no qualms pointing out that these tools of the apologist, whether it is fallacies, double standards, and strategic cop-outs are so obvious as to be laughable. The only people who are taken in by them are those who lack good critical thinking skills and couldn’t for the life of them explain what the problem with an invisible pink unicorn existing is, never mind about God.
But then, we have to wonder, how could God ever be used as an explanation at all? An explanation demands, by its very definition, that we are able to understand and make sense of the information presented. This requires us to have a theory which can make testable predictions, otherwise we could never hold the information up to scrutiny or see which of our theories passed muster and which failed. Once the information passes a certain level of testing, it becomes evidence in support of a qualified theory. Only then does the explanation of events, the information, and the theory itself all make sense.
The problem is those who invoke God as an “explanation” do not do so with the understanding that God is an explanatory mechanism as powerful as the scientific method. Rather, they posit God as an “explanation” because they are too lazy to take to task the responsibility of demonstrating their claims.
Randal isn’t done with bad analogies though. Extending his balloon metaphor into the realm of cosmology, he says:

“Imagine that fourteen billion years ago there was nothing, and then suddenly a Mickey Mouse balloon sprang into existence out of nothing and that balloon has been inflating ever since. Doesn’t that make you even more inclined to think that there must be some reason for the beginning of its existence?”

No. Not really. It only makes the person who doesn’t understand that the universe is inseparable, if not indistinguishable, from space and time thinks that such a question is one worth asking. But because the question is predicated on a faulty premise it will lead to a faulty conclusion. This is because our intuition is fallible, and therefore, we cannot rely on intuition as Randal wants us to simply to determine whether or not the question in itself is reasonable.
Next Sheridan raises the counter point that the physicist Michio Kaku has posited that it’s plausible for a technologically advanced alien race to have created our universe, and asks if this is possible, why would God be an equally plausible assumption? 

Randal doesn’t seem to get the point here, and asks Sheridan, “Even if that were the case, you could still ask what reason there is that the aliens’ universe exists.”
Well, yes. We could still ask that. But all we really needed was to explain the existence of our universe. If these universe incubating aliens turned out to be real, then we’d have the answer. The explanation would be found in their technology, and how it works, and we could theoretically learn from them and create our own universes as well. When it comes to positing God, all we are doing is positing a non-explanatory-theory (yes, it’s an oxymoron since theories are supposed to be explanatory).
The question is, would Randal be willing to admit the same? If he posits God as the cause, then is he willing to ask what reason is there for God to exist? If he resorts to the old theologian shell game of stating God has always existed, then he’s employing the double standard and isn’t approaching the question fairly.
Sheridan sarcastically replies, “Maybe it was created by aliens from another universe.”
Employing the infinite regress here is actually quite smart, because it reveals that the problem exists for all things that one wants to consider contingent.
Randal becomes defensive, however, and snaps:

“You have officially lost the right to call any of my beliefs crazy.”

No, Randal. You’ve missed the point that is being raised here by atheists.
The point being: an infinite regress for God would be a defeater for the God of classical theology. The God who claims to be the ONE and only TRUE God™ could not, in point of fact, be the ONE and only TRUE anything if there was a prior God which needed to exist in order to create it.
The universe doesn’t suffer the same disproof, because the infinite regress does not contradict any claims about how the universe ought to be.
I find it funny how Randal can parrot the atheist argument word for word, but frequently doesn’t get why the argument is being made.
Sheridan laments the fact that he doesn’t see why everything needs to have an explanation, and I for one feel his pain. Really, the only one demanding explanations here is the theologian. Because they want God to be real, so they have to make the demand a necessary requirement of establishing the possibility for God, so they may freely insert God into the equation.
The scientist doesn’t make unnecessary demands. They simply look at the evidence, and if something is beyond their comprehension then they wait until a better theory comes along. But they don’t force unnecessary theories to explain things they don’t have evidence for. That’s the wrong way to do science, which is why you’d need a theology degree to ever think that such a schema would work to explain anything at all.
Randal finally says something I can agree with when he informs:

“I’m not claiming that being a Christian is as simple as believing there’s a personal cause of the universe. But opting to believe that there is a personal agent cause behind the universe raises the question of how that cause should be described.”

Yes, this is all true. If you believe something exists in such and such a way, then figuring out how one goes about accurately describing it is a perfectly valid aim.
Sheridan then asks the question that’s on all of our minds.

“How can you justify your particular description of this personal agent cause?”

Randal loops back to his key analogy. How do we know whether a quake knocked the keys off the table or if a person did? In other words, how do we know whether it was an event with a personal causal agent or a natural causal agent?
Randal explains that the person could eliminate non-intelligent (natural) causal agents by detecting whether or not an earthquake took place between the time the keys were on the table to the time they were discovered on the floor.
Randal then uses his ignorance of science to make this astounding statement:

“When it comes to natural events there are also an infinite number of possible non-intelligent and intelligent causes, but the scientist excludes the vast majority out of the gate and only considers a few as live candidates. And this is the way it must be or a scientist could never formulate a single specific hypothesis or test a single specific theory.”

What?!
If you gave yourself a bloody nose from the ensuing face-palm, be sure to get a tissue on that right away.
Randal is misrepresenting science in the extreme. Scientists are able to narrow down their ability to determine causal events because they are good at measuring these events, collecting information, making observations, and gathering evidence. It is because of this strong wealth of information and evidence that a scientist can formulate a hypothesis and test a theory. They do not do this in spite of everything else, which is really a strange way of looking at science.
I have to assume this is merely a reflection of Randal’s profound scientific ignorance, because I have never heard the claim that scientists arbitrarily dismiss information so they can settle on other information to test. They dismiss information that isn’t relevant to their area of focus, this is true, but that’s not what Randal is claiming. He’s claiming they are arbitrarily dismissing and choosing the evidence they want—and that simply isn’t the case.
Like I said, having past the halfway point in the book, the only place it could go is downhill. I simply couldn’t imagine how fast it would plummet. I think we hit terminal velocity with that comment. But Randal isn’t finished. Far from it.

“So whether you’re a scientist, a devout religious person or anything else, the same fact remains. We all have to exclude most possibilities when we’re surveying potential non-intelligent and intelligent causes.”

It springs to mind that scientists typically don’t consider intelligent causal agents when examining or explaining the natural world, since non-intelligent (natural) causal agents, such as the laws of physics, is all there is. From this understanding, scientists can eliminate all intelligent causal agents for explaining natural phenomenon.
Also, as we reflected on above, the evidence a scientist gathers often contributes to their hypothesis of whether or not something would be the product of a causal event.
The greenhouse effect being linked to global warming is one such example. The evidence of fossil fuel burning, and the subsequent rapid increase of carbon monoxide being put into the air by humans, as compared with the evidence of Co2 levels contained in ice samples dating back as far as 300,000 years old, strongly suggest that humans are the main contributors to present day global climate change.
In this way, evidence allows scientists to keep the focus of investigation on the direct link between human activity and climate change, thereby allowing them to rule out other potential non-intelligent (natural) causal agents. But scientists don’t actually rule out other events, they actually have looked to see whether or not natural events, such as weather or the ocean, lend to global climate change at the same rate as that observed by human causes. And they do not, so they actually have ruled out non-intelligent (natural) agents because they tested them too, and came to the conclusion that, ultimately, it’s intelligent causal agents, mainly humans, that are causing this drastic, undeniable climate change.[4]
Randal closes this chapter with a bit of banter with Sheridan, debating the fact of whether or not he’s pulling a “debater’s trick” simply to one up Sheridan all the time. Randal denies it, naturally. But having finally, and gladly, finished this chapter I don’t think Randal is tricking anyone but for himself.
I apologize for the length this time around, but it couldn’t be avoided, mainly due to the fact that when tasked to fill the seemingly infinite void of the infinitely ignorant with facts, you spend more time correcting their mistakes than you do covering relevant new ground. If you’ve stuck with me this far, give yourself a pat on the back.

In chapter 18, “From Personal Cause to Most Perfect Being” we will find out how the vague and nebulous hypothetical personal causer agent who spawned the universe is the one and only Perfect Being as described by Christian theology. But let’s look on the bright side, at least Randal’s heinous attempt to murder the spirit of science is over with.


[1]Wikipedia provides a good overview on this anecdotal exchange between Laplace and Napoleon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Simon_Laplace
[3]Loop quantum gravity is also a theory about quantum space and quantum time, two things which Einstein’s theory of special relativity cannot adequately account for. See more about loop quantum gravity online at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loop_quantum_gravity
Meanwhile, for more on how Quantum theory continually defies our basic intuition, read Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw’s brilliant introduction to the subject matter, The Quantum Universe, De Capo Press, 2012.
[4]See the documentary on global warming presented by the Discovery Channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcVwLrAavyA&list=PL4F1D91565722D350&index=16
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