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Atheism/Logical proofs for God


Dear Jeffrey Eldred,

As an observant, religiously educated, Jew, my Judaism is a choice, and, like all other non-cognitive decisions, grounded on subjective a-rational willful choice (itself) alone. “One cannot be asked to prove a negative”, but similar to “believing” in love, all proof in both directions are worse than irrelevant. God is no indifferent scientific fact; if he were, he would not be God (see “Death by a Thousand Qualifications”). The only possible significance of such a God is “The One Who Commanded XYZ”, and if there be any Dogma at all, that is it. The sole “Halachic (Legal)” definition of a Jewish convert is one who has made the above Deontic choice. Any and all scientific theory and facts cannot possibly refute or back a human conception of “Value”.
Nevertheless, I have heard from youth a simple syllogism that seems to prove the existence of God, and have never found anything to disprove it. I wish to present it to you because it is untenable to me that such basic logic is without refutation by the whole school of atheism, and its many members.
Every man or matter was either preceded by himself, or not. He cannot have preceded himself, for if so, there would have been no need for his creation (by himself) in the first place.
It must be then, that he was preceded by another, who created him.
The obvious question remaining is who created the first matter\man\macroevolution\Big Bang\etc.?
Now, again, one of two options is possible. Either this process of creator\created\creator\created is prescribed, or it is not.
If it is not prescribed (forced), there must be a Creator who created all creations (who is himself not created, for if he was, he is just another creation, not a Creator). If it is prescribed, there must then be an external and independent force forcing and prescribing this process.
There is no third option. If, for the sake of argument, man has transformed at some point, for instance, the question is redirected to the original form man took. There must also be a beginning, for all matter has age, as known by Carbon 14, etc.
Not “seeing” God is no justification to disbelieve his existence. If the president is shot, even if all his men cannot locate the shooter, one thing is certain. Someone or something obviously fired the bullet. Here too, an effect is clear testimony of its cause (see Appeal to Ignorance).
He must also be unlimited. Anything that has boundaries must have had someone that limited it, such as a builder for a building. If the universe is limited (as it must, seeing as objects take up space), there must be someone who limited it. That means someone altogether unrestricted, i.e. God.
Ergo, there cannot be more than one God, for each, by necessity, limits the other’s abilities.
This continues of course…
Like I’ve said, this is not my own foundation for religion by any means, but it does help many others. This seems to be merely a distortion of the logical process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion formed by ideological bias.
Please enlighten me as to the faulty logic in the above calculations, and do not be brief!
Thanks for all the help,

Hello Isaac, thank you for the question. Your question mostly seems to be about the cosmological argument for God, and therefore you might be especially interested in reading a past answer of mine about that subject[1]. I've tried to write a comprehensive answer for your question directly and please feel free to ask a follow-up question if you feel I missed something. In the “Asides” section at the end I address some minor points that you make that are not directly related to the origin of the universe, but you may be interested to hear my thoughts on. (If you wanted an expert not to be brief, you've come to the right place!)

The Origin of Matter:
The first thing I want to say is that we need not go into philosophical speculation when describing the origin of the matter, when we have empirical evidence to inform us. How did the elements of the periodic table get made? How did the first particle get made? Why is the universe asymmetrical? Believe it or not, modern science has actually arrived at answers to these sorts of questions. The elements of the periodic table (that make up living things and the planet we live on) were originally made from the fusion of hydrogen and helium in stars[2]. Particles are created because the vacuum state[3] is unstable – the energy needed to sustain a vacuum is sufficiently high to be used to generate matter (in particle anti-particle pairs) which immediately fills the vacuum rather than have it remain empty (compare to quark confinement[4] or a layer of water beading on a hydrophobic surface[5]). We know also that the mechanisms that bring about the generation of particles are indeterministic (or probabilistic) in nature, which means that a symmetric arrangement of matter can always become asymmetric and that confined matter can always escape (even, for example, from a black hole[6]

These properties of the universe are not just some story physicists tells themselves to feel smart and enlightened, but rather unexpected phenomena we were forced to accept after mounting experimental evidence. Fusion reactions can be performed in the laboratory[7] and observed in the electromagnetic spectrum of the stars[8]. Particle creation can be recreated a million times a second in a particle collider[9], and the early distribution of matter is consistent with an expansion from a dense group of fluctuating interacting particles[10]. For a purely scientific description of the science of the history of our universe I'd recommend Michael Turner[11] (cosmologist and incoming president of APS[12]) and his book “The Early Universe”[13][14]. For a more modern, more explicitly atheistic and philosophical discussion of the science from a cosmologist, I'd recommend Lawrence Krauss[15] and “A Universe from Nothing”, available first as a talk[16] and now also a book[17][18].

So quantum mechanics tells us that matter can be created and arranged without a determinable consistent physical cause, and cosmology tells us a lot of that matter was created early on in the universe and continues to be created. So now that our universe is created (that is, filled with matter) the arrangement of matters is chiefly determined by interactions with other arrangements of matter, rather than fluctuations of the vacuum state. Our physical intuition tells us that every physical thing (every arrangement of matter) must have a physical cause (a preceding arrangement) of matter, but that is only because all of our experiences (in our individual memories as well as our evolutionary history) take place after the formation of atoms (in the our solar system). For humans to perceive the universe with its spontaneous creation or spontaneous fluctuation requires building machines that generate either the very dense[9] or the very isolated[19].

In fact my study of physics and philosophy would lead me to question even our perception of time and its relation to causality. We perceive the universe as one that is unfolding in a sequence with each event “causing” the next but what if the entire timeline of the universe is already “created” and what we think of as a physical “causes” are simply the rules for how matter is ordered in time (not importantly different from the rules for how matter is ordered in space[20]). In that case, the important question would not be what came “first” but what how did we get the “script” (the selection of how the entire universe is to unfold).

The Origin of Existence:
At this point however you may feel that I've neglected the main argument in your question. I may be able to explain the origin of matter from the laws of physics, but how (or why) are the laws of physics what they are? In Aristotle's classification of causes[23], my description of the origin of matter only describes how the universe can operate without either a material or formal cause. The efficient cause of matter would be the laws of physics, while its efficient cause would be a “how” and its final cause would be a “why”. In your words, in addition to the laws of physics I still need either a “Creator” or an “external and independent force forcing and prescribing”.

Here you may be interested on reading my past AllExperts answer to a similar question, “why is there anything at all?”, found here[24]. In short, no matter how I try to explain the origin of the existence I find that the inclusion of God into the explanation makes it less satisfactory instead of more. In other words I don't need to know the answer completely in order to state that a Creator of the universe makes even less sense. My answers draws heavily influenced from the arguments made by David Hume[25] in his work Dialogues Concerned Natural Theology[26].

But allow me to elaborate on my “how” and “why” the rules of physics are the way they are (or exist at all). One accounting for the specific details of the rules of physics is that they are a specific case of very large set of more general probabilities. The specific case of our rules of physics would be an application of the Anthropic Principle[27] or Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking[28], with the other possible rules would either be contained in multiverses, hypothetical versions of our universe which might have happened, or forms of our own universe yet to manifest (in which the rules change very slowly). For instance, string theory[29] is one framework which would allow our rules of physics to be a specific case of a larger set, but there are a variety of “quantum gravity” or theories which attempt to find a simple, elegant pattern from which all of the laws of physics come from. Presently there is no experimental evidence that would confirm or deny each of these theories (and there might not ever be) so right now this type of theoretical physics more closely resembles philosophy or mathematics than science. If it could be proven, however, it would replace the problem of a large set of arbitrary physics rules with a universe with one (or a few) rules that are powerful enough to generate almost every conceivable universe. That would be a tremendous improvement on the situation (at least according to the principle of parsimony[30]). Although we might never be able to explain why those few rules, we may be able to say something like “there is no known ruleset which is capable of producing a comparably complicated universe from a simpler set of rules” which would somewhat mean it could be the only type of universe “possible”.

And now let me return to “why”. I noticed the argument you gave me referred to this First Cause as a “Creator” or a “God”. However there is little in the argument to describe the properties of this First Cause (I discuss its potential limitlessness in the Asides section), so there is no reason to suppose this First Cause is living, intelligent, moral, still active, or has many of the important properties one we typically ascribe to a Abrahamic God[31][32][33]. If all one believes in is the origin of the universe, it seems perverse or dishonest to refer to it as God knowing that it will be misunderstood by others to support superstition or religion. If one does in fact believe in a more traditional God, than more argument is required to establish this. In your original question you did say “This continues of course…” which implies that there could be more to the argument, but I typically find it is this part of the argument that is weakest. In my (previously mentioned) AllExperts post on the Kalam Cosmological argument[1], I address a specific set of cosmological arguments which attempt to give a First Cause more typical God-like attributes. In this other AllExperts post[34] I go over the logical difficulties of inferring a Being with a God-like mind.

Why are humans more likely to assume a specific, detailed, complicated God is the origin of the universe instead of something more simple, mechanical, and probable? This talk[35] by Eliezer Yudkowsky describes many of the logical fallacies in our subconscious judgment of the situation and when the rules of probability (and inference) go the other way.

You say “He must also be unlimited. Anything that has boundaries must have had someone that limited it, such as a builder for a building. If the universe is limited (as it must, seeing as objects take up space), there must be someone who limited it. That means someone altogether unrestricted, i.e. God.”
The way that this argument is phrased implies that “limitlessness” is the natural state of things and therefore an object that is not physical and is not caused is therefore necessarily limitless. I don't think there is any basis to establish that, but I also don't think limit is well-defined for nonphysical object (it neither has a limit nor is limitless) so maybe it's a moot point. If the nonphysical First Cause can interact with the universe after its creation than that interaction can have a limit, but we haven't established yet that the First Cause does anything other than create universes. It might be reasonable to assume the First Cause is scale-free[36] and spatially symmetric[37] in which case it would have to interact with all the universe or not at all.

You say “Ergo, there cannot be more than one God, for each, by necessity, limits the other’s abilities.”
Technically it would mean that if there were more than one God, those Gods would be overlapping in physical extent. For example, Gravity and Electromagnetism are overlapping, but physicists typically conceptualize them as distinct (before grand unified field theories at least.) One could always group all limitless First Causes and refer to them as a single entity with perhaps different aspects (for instance is the God who created leptons the same one who created quarks). So whether this system is monotheistic or polytheist might come down to a matter of semantics (at least until you can describe more characteristics that would stipulate its intelligence and behavior). I have an AllExperts post on the monotheistic or polytheistic nature of abstract deities here[38] as well.

You say “One cannot be asked to prove a negative“ and “Not 'seeing' God is no justification to disbelieve his existence.“
Typically if an atheist proves that a certain aspect of God is nonsensical or that God cannot intervene any more than a certain amount, than a believer responds that God isn't like that or God exists but in hidden form. Technically an atheist cannot disprove an infinite set of possible versions of God, all the evidence for which seems to be hidden. The scenario, from a skeptic's perspective, is well explained in videos by QualiaSoup[39][40][41]. However if we apply the same standards of belief to ideas about God as we do to other ideas, than we see that even “agnosticism” is to charitable. Just as one does not believe in (by chronology) Russel's Martian teapot[42], Sagan's Dragon in the Garage[43], the Invisible Pink Unicorn[44], or the Flying Spaghetti Monster[45], one cannot be asked to believe in such a God.

You say “There must also be a beginning, for all matter has age, as known by Carbon 14, etc.”
Actually there is nothing intrinsic about matter which indicates it's age, a proton from the beginning of the universe could have the same properties as a proton made in a particle accelerator. Moreover quantum mechanics would tell us that there are many of cases in which the age of a particle is actually ambiguous – it may have persisted or it may have been destroyed and replaced by a similar particle (and there would be no experimental test that could be conducted to determined 100% for sure). Physical objects obtain a date only from inferences that are made about the history of the arrangement. For radiometric dating[46] the ratio of unstable nuclei to stable nuclei when the sample was created (or assembled) is known if the mechanism for creating (or assembling) the sample is known (fresh samples may still be created for example). If the conditions under which the sample is kept is also known, than the decay rate will be constant and the age of the sample (from creation/assembly) is predicted from the inverse exponential distribution[47] (the length of decay time most likely to produce the results seen). Scientists always publish the precision of their dating techniques and different types of dating techniques (including other radiometric dating techniques) can be used to cross-validate[48] any assumptions made.
Perhaps you simply meant to say that the age of matter in the universe cannot be infinite (or to be more scientifically accurate, the age of the universe cannot be infinite). I actually don't see why this premise must be accepted. The scientific evidence points to a finite age of the universe, so I believe the universe has been finite in time, but I don't find anything inherently implausible about a universe without a (chronological) beginning. As I mentioned before, I can see no real reason why the human perception of time and the “time” in which the universe was created need to be the same thing.

You say “Any and all scientific theory and facts cannot possibly refute or back a human conception of 'Value'.”
This an idea that relates back to David Hume's notion that one cannot derive and “ought” from and “is”[49]. There are some who disagree. Atheist philosopher historian Richard Carrier[50] and atheist neuroscientist author Sam Harris[51] arrive at moral realism[52] solutions in their respective books (here[53][54] and here[55][56]). Both make a similar case against Hume's logic. They contend that Hume is being to reductionist[57] when he looks at morality. When he looks at “is” he thinks about static properties of small-scale non-living matter and when he looks at “ought” he thinks about complex interactions in large-scale living matter. In a materialistic view of the universe that holds living matter to work by the same laws of physics as living matter, the important features of life and consciousness are emergent from the interactions in the matter. Similarly Carrier and Harris argue, morality is an consequence emergent from interactions in living matter. Here is an AllExperts post I wrote exploring the difference between living and non-living matter[58]. I don't think the approach taken by Carrier and Harris is sufficient, and my own grand ideas on morality (and consciousness) are outlined in this AllExperts post[59].

[20] In fact this is essentially what is meant by the physics term “field theory”[21], which chooses to describe the dynamics of particles in terms of relations between differentials of time and differentials of space[22].


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Jeffrey Ellsworth


I am well versed on the arguments for both sides about the existence of God and am especially aware of the philosophical ramifications and psychological reactions to atheism. Also, if you have a question about atheism as that pertains to Science or Skepticism, I may be an especially good pick. However my knowledge of non-Judeo-Christian religions and Biblical archaeology is generally limited to knowledge about directions to more informative resources.


I've been an atheist for 14 years now, open about it for 9 years after being raised in a Roman Catholic family. In that time I have held many different philosophical perspective on the subject and had different emotional and psychological reactions to atheism. I have absorbed many internet articles, video debates, atheist publications, and secular podcasts in my process of understanding and supporting the atheist movement. I routinely hold conversations on the subject.

One article in If Journal, an interfaith publication.

I have a BS in Physics and Mathematics from the College of William & Mary I am pursuing my Ph.D in Physics at Indiana University at Bloomington. I have very little formal training in philosophy or sociology.

Awards and Honors
I was president of the William & Mary Students for Science & Secularism before graduating.

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