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The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Fifth

This might be my favorite argument in Geoffrey Berg’s book, The Six Ways of Atheism.  My favorite, because of how ridiculous it is.

It appears that Berg and I agree on that, for he opens the chapter:

This is my favourite argument against the existence of God and I believe it is a decisive and absolute disproof against the existence of God. (97)

The advance press does not pan out.  This proof is not decisive and can actually be refuted in a single paragraph.  First, the argument:

  1. An uncertain God is a contradiction in terms.
  2. Everything in the universe must be fundamentally uncertain about its own relationship to the universe as a whole because there is no way of attaining such certainty.
  3. Therefore even an entity with all God’s other qualities cannot have the final quality of certain knowledge concerning its own relationship to the universe as a whole.
  4. Therefore God cannot exist because even any potential God cannot know for sure that it is God.

Can you ever REALLY know your relationship to the universe? As a constituent of it, no. But what if YOU created it? You’d be pretty certain, I imagine!

God created the universe.  A creator always knows the relationship it has to its own creation.  Therefore, God may possess a certainty that none of us have since God created the thing about which we are uncertain.

Refuted.  Now I bet he feels silly spending 46 pages to build to this:

What is beyond doubt is that I have now provided absolute and indubitable disproof of the existence of a monotheistic God which no objection can overcome.  Therefore, like it or not, make of it what you will, monotheism is wrong and atheism is right! (143)

Let’s give a couple of examples to show why this doesn’t work when applied to the being that created the universe.  Pretend that a computer circuit was sentient.  Once installed in a machine, it can only see a limited part of the computer, and it can only process data that the operating system sends it.  It has a fundamental uncertainty about its place in the whole, and has no way to attain any such certainty since it is denied access to most of the data the computer processes and it can’t leave its post to explore the rest of the machine.

Let’s contrast that with the guy who built this same computer, and who installed that sentient circuit.  If anyone knows the layout of the machine, the machine’s purpose, the purpose of the individual circuits, and moreover his relationship to the machine it is this guy.  By virtue of being the builder, he knows what others don’t, and he knows what the individual circuits could never know.

A more human example would be my kids.  My wife and I are not artists.  I paint with words rather than brushstrokes.  My wife assembles scrapbooks with great layout and composition, but using clipart and photography.  My daughter, on the other hand, fills journals and comp books with drawings and sketches — at only age 4.  (We are not talking da Vinci-like drawings; more like, “I see whiskers, pointy ears, yep… it’s a cat, honey!”)  She also colors inside the lines better than I do.

My wife and I, though we played clarinet in the high school band, are not gifted musically either.  We know the ins and outs of composition — theory, chords, melodies, and harmonies — but we couldn’t put any of it together.  We’re technical musicians; neither of us can play something by feel.  Yet my son has an ear for music; and my brother-in-law (who is musically gifted) swears he will be very talented one day.  From very early, he reacted to music — even when nothing else would work.

Knowing that genetics play a role in these things, my kids will both be left to wonder where they got these talents from when they’re older.  My daughter the artist will think, “Where did I get this from?  Dad can’t draw stick figures.”  My son, long hair and two garage bands later, will laugh at my primitive attempts to understand his guitar mastery.

While my wife and I know with certainty where these angels came from — being present at their lives from pregnancy, birth, midnight feedings, liquefied poop in diapers, and all the other joys of parenting — the kids themselves will have a fundamental uncertainty.  Especially given how unlike us these two can be.  Mom and Dad raised me, they’ll think, but are they really my parentsDid they really adopt us?

On the other hand, I was there for everything; I know they are my kids.  My wife was equally there for everything; she knows they are her kids.  As parents, we possess a certainty of this our offspring cannot due to our relationship to them.

So it is with God.  As the ultimate creator of everything, God knows his relationship it the same way the engineer knows the computer better than a sentient circuit and my wife knows better than my daughter who gave birth to whom.

It is ironic that Berg states this is the one argument that attacks God on his own terms rather than from a human perspective.  Quite the contrary — it saddles God with uncertainty only a human in the universe could possess; uncertainty that the creator of the universe would not possess by virtue of his status as creator.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on September 21, 2012, in Apologetics. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. each thing must be “fundamentally uncertain about its own relationship to the universeas a whole”

    What does that even mean?

    • I think it means that any being within the universe is unsure of its place in the universe.

      To draw on an example familiar to me, if I position a crew person at the fry station without explaining what good performance looks like or what I’m expecting him to do, then he has no idea how his job meshes with the overall whole of the restaurant. Further, if I expect him to assist with bagging orders when I’m busy without explaining this tidbit, he’s probably not going to do it or if he does it will be purely coincidental.

      If this hypothetical restaurant lacks a leader to explain these fundamentals, then the workers are flying blind. Only a leader can impart such a sense of purpose.

      If there is no God, no overall leader, I (like the fry guy) cannot make sense of the universe or my place in it. I require someone to provide that direction to me; I can’t ever know for sure where I stand without it.

      His contention is that God is in the same boat as the fry guy; God cannot know his place unless it’s provided for him.

      Where the analogy breaks down is that if I am the manager of the shift, I know that I am the one putting it together, providing direction, and setting goals. I know how the overall picture works and therefore do not have the same uncertainty as the fry guy.

      Since this is Berg’s favorite argument, it’s the one he is replying to personal via e-mail (with permission to share on the blog). But, I see where you’re going: this isn’t well-explained. He’s being very vague.

  2. yeah, it is very vague to me.

    I have no idea which things are “fundamentally uncertain about its own relationship to the universeas a whole”

    I have no idea which things are “unsure of its place in the universe.”

    Heisenbuerg’s uncertainty principle maybe? who knows.

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