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CARM's Arguments: Rehashing the Simplistic

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CARM is the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, an organization located at www.carm.org, which concerns itself with examining a host of various apologetics issues. One of these issues is atheism, which is explored on its own page.

CARM’s arguments against atheism are little more than rehashings of arguments better expressed by others. More specifically, they offer three arguments : a rehashing of the Kalam Argument, a rehashing of the presuppositionalist argument from evolution, and a rehashing of presuppositionalism as applied to logic.

It would not necessarily be a fault for one to repeat things other people have discovered – after all, we can’t reinvent the wheel all the time – but the fact is that these arguments have been expressed much better elsewhere (the Kalam Argument by William Craig, the argument from evolution by Plantinga, and presuppositionalism by many theologians, such as Frame and Bahnsen), and CARM could have simply adapted those instead of wasting their time making inferior copies.

The first argument, their version of Kalam, is fairly simple but has as much holes as a rapper after a drive-by shooting. Here is the short version :

1. The universe is not infinitely old because it has not “run down.”
2. Because the universe has had a beginning it is not infinite in size.
3. All events have causes.
4. Since the universe is finite and had a beginning and there cannot be an infinite number of regressions of causes to bring it into existence, there must be a single uncaused cause of the universe.
5. This uncaused cause is supernatural.

We can accept easily premise 1 and deduction 5. Obviously the universe cannot be infinitely old, and if there is a cause of the universe, then it must be supernatural (whatever that means).

It is impossible, however, to grant CARM 2, 3 or 4. Even if the universe is not infinitely old, to say that it had a beginning is beyond the logical consequences of that statement. The universe could not have a beginning at all, or be uncaused, and yet still be finitely old. In fact, modern cosmology would share our position that the universe was uncaused and finitely old – that it is, in effect, self-contained.

But even apart from that, 2 is still invalid due to the fact that the universe could both be uncaused and infinite in size. While the universe is not infinite in size, there is no logical problem with imagining such a scenario, apart from the impossibility of actual infinities. CARM only argues against actual infinities in the next point instead of this one, so obviously they did not realize that possibility.

Point 3 is likewise deficient in that it takes a very narrow view of what is logically possible and what is not. Their strategy in this argument seems to be to argue against a specific position and set up theism as the only valid alternative, ignoring all the other, more reasonable alternatives. In the case of 3, we are supposed to believe that either the universe is infinitely old, or it is caused. The only reasonable option, supported by cosmology, is to say that the universe is uncaused and finitely old. Yet CARM keeps ignoring science for a straw man.

Point 4 is equally addle-headed in its formulation. Why must there be a “single uncaused cause” instead of many ? Indeed, inductive arguments demonstrate that multiple creators are much more reasonable than one. Simpler and smaller creations require less creators than complex and vast creations, and the universe, at least as we observe it today, is complex and vast.

CARM also uses sleight of hand here to imply that a cause of the universe should be “greater”, and then saying that, because the universe is finite, the cause must be infinite. But surely the “greater” that we use in causality is one of potentiality, not in direct comparison between the properties of the cause and the effect. When we say that human beings are “greater” than a building in terms of causality, we do not mean that every single human is taller than the building, or more resistant to kinetic energy, but rather that the human beings had the potentiality to build that building and more besides. CARM’s deduction is like saying that we must be taller than anything we make !

The argument concludes with :

At this point I admit to making a leap of logic and assert that the supernatural, uncaused cause is the God of the Bible.

A leap of logic indeed. If the argument cannot even demonstrate that a god created the universe, then it is of absolutely no use to the theist. At best, the argument demonstrates that there is a supernatural Creator, not necessarily a god.

In their second argument, CARM argues that our free will is nothing but the product of chemical interactions, and therefore “nothing more than the result of naturals laws inherent in the natural universe”. But they don’t even try to demonstrate that this implies their conclusion that natural beings cannot have free will.

This argument is nothing more than an instance of what I call the Fallacy of Explaining Away. This sort of insanity is particularly strong in Christians. They seem to believe that, by explaining how something works, you have made it disappear. For instance, some think that by explaining WHY a contradiction in the bible occurred, they have made it irrelevant.

In this particular case, there is no reason to deduce that free will does not exist, simply because it is regulated by chemical processes. One would have to ask CARM, how exactly do they think their brain operates ? By a homunculus, or maybe gears and pulleys ? Either way, the existence of specific brain functions is not refuted by explaining how they work : rather the contrary, the existence of those brain functions is confirmed by such explanations. The fact that chemical interactions do exist and give rise to awareness and decision-making in higher primates does not in any way refute the existence of awareness and decision-making !

CARM’s third argument pertains, as I said, to presuppositionalism applied to logic. It is therefore subject to all the problems of presuppositionalism, as discussed in ‘A Refutation Of The Transcendental Argument For The Existence Of God’, and to materialist apologetics. The case of logic is particularly damning : it is quite absurd to claim that a god created logic, since logic is obviously necessary in nature. It cannot therefore be contingent to a god’s will. If a god can make it so that A is not-A, any discussion of logic becomes meaningless. Theism is absurd because it makes reasoning absurd.

CARM has no new justification or defense against the tremendous problems of presuppositionalism. Instead, they merely attempt to prove that naturalism cannot account for logic.

In reality, there are two ways by which we gain the sense of logic. The first is instinctually, by the virtue of being born with a human brain – a minimal logic being an evolutionary adaptation that is common to all humans, and for good reason. But this is not explicit nor is it enough. The second way by which we gain logic is, like all other truths, by our senses : we observe that everything has a singular identity, and this basic fact of reality is the basis of the laws of logic. No contradictions can exist.

Indeed, CARM understands as much when they say :

For example, we do not see in nature that something is both itself and not itself at the same time. Why? Because we can only observe a phenomena that exists, not one that does not exist. If something is not itself, then it doesn’t exist. How then can the property of that non-existent thing be observed? It cannot.

Well put. This would be an insightful point, if they had placed it in any kind of rational context. But instead, they use this fact to deny that we find logic from observation.

The question then arises, how does the fact that we cannot observe illogic prove that we cannot observe logic ? This is a turn for the burlesque which makes as much sense as demanding to see a supernatural being in order to prove materialism. Of course illogic does not exist, that is precisely what logic tells us. We should not expect to see any contradiction, god or not !

As such, CARM tries to reduce an epistemic issue (how we find logic) into an ontological issue (what we observe exists). That is a category error, of course. Whatever exists must follow the laws of logic, because they are absolute

As I said in my introduction, CARM’s arguments against atheism are rehashings of superior arguments. I recommend that they look those up and use those as their arguments instead of inferior adaptations. They should also learn how to write arguments so as to not leave any hidden premises, because they either have many of them or they do not understand the laws of logic at all. But most likely, the people at CARM simply do not want to have to think about the real alternatives to their beliefs.

Last updated: October 13, 2004