Does God Exist? Quentin Smith's Opening Speech

Quentin Smith

The question [of whether] God exists may sound as if the atheist knows that she does not exist, which is no positive theory about what does exist. You know, this has been true of traditional atheism. Well, I believe here that there should be a new form of atheism, one that presents a positive theory of what exists and that this positive theory has a logical consequence that God does not exist.

1.  One form of the existence question is this: did God create the universe? I reject the traditional atheist response, as well as the theist response. The traditional atheist response is that the universe does not need an explanation of why it exists and therefore does not need a divine Creator to give an explanation. I reject this since I think the universe's existence does need and does have an explanation. The universe created itself. After this I argue that atheism, but not theism, explains humans' moral behavior.

Scientists have been saying for a long time that the universe began about 15 billion years ago with an explosion they call the Big Bang. Bill believes the Big Bang was caused by God and I believe it both caused itself to exist and caused the later states of the universe to exist. At the Big Bang there is a line of simultaneous causes and effects. This is implied both by a Bohmian interpretation of quantum mechanics and by the EPR correlations - for those of you in the audience who are science majors - which imply - you don't need to understand either of the sciences to understand my talk - and these theories imply that there are instantaneous causal relations between simultaneous events.

I agree with Bill and some philosophers and physicists that Einstein's relative time merely describes how time appears to us and that time in reality consists in successive states of absolutely simultaneous events. In fact, Bill and I are co-editing a book that will contain essays by the leading physicists and philosophers who argue for absolute simultaneity. So that's one common belief that Bill and I will have throughout this debate.

The first state of the universe consists of an indefinitely or infinitely long chain of simultaneous events that are causally connected to each other. Now I drew a picture of this on the board.























→ -2 

→ -1 

→ 0   

→ 1   

→ 2 

→ 3...

Fig. 1.

OK, this is the very first state of the universe, time t0 and the horizontal lines are lines of the simultaneous events. So these numbers stand for events. And these dots mean this goes indefinitely or infinitely long off to the left in space. And these dots mean this line of events goes off indefinitely or infinitely off to the right in space. So at the very first time the universe began, there is this simultaneous line of events where there was simultaneous causation. So event -2 instantaneously caused event -1. And that also simultaneously caused event 0. And 0 simultaneously caused event 1. And that simultaneously caused 2 and so on, for an indefinite or infinite number of events going off in that direction.

So at the very first state of the universe, there are an infinite number of events, but every single event is fully caused and it's fully caused by another event and each of these causes are part of the universe. So we can see already why we don't need a God to create the first state of the universe. And to say that it creates itself just means that this causes that, that causes that and that causes that and so on. Now these events also cause this arrow here, these arrows mean simultaneous causation.

These vertical arrows mean causes a later event. So -2 causes the later event -II.  And -1 causes the later event of -I. And this caused the later event that. And this caused the later event that. And that and that. And so here, we have every single event has a cause. This is caused by that. And, this is caused by that. And there is no event left anywhere for God to cause. So that's what the paradoxical or metaphorical phrase, "the universe caused itself", means.

Furthermore, the whole universe does not need an extra cause. If all the parts of the universe are caused to exist, that logically implies the whole exists. It is really a simple logical deduction from all of the parts of the universe, the parts here - when I say parts, I am referring to these events that I drew on the board. All the parts of the universe exist and they caused each other to exist, now that logically implies the whole of the parts exists. So this nullifies the typical theist claim that even if all the parts are causally explained by each other, the whole is not causally explained. And thus we need God to cause the whole. Now I venture to predict that this is what Bill will say in his response to me, if it's not impolite to predict what Bill will say. And also if it's not impolite, I will also counter his response in advance.

The theists and Bill's claim is false, I contend, since the existence of the whole is already explained by the causal explanation of the parts. The reason the whole exists is that the parts cause themselves to exist and the existence of the parts logically implies the existence of the whole. If the universe is self-caused in this manner, there is no divine cause to the universe. Now Bill might and probably will, if I can predict again, mention features of the whole universe that no parts have, such as density, expansion, temperature, etc. and say well, these features need to be caused by something, namely God. But my response is that these are really features of large parts of the whole. Density is a feature of the part of the whole that is matter. Expansion is a feature of a large part of the whole that is space. Temperature is a characteristic of the part of the whole that consists of the movement of the molecules. Now these cannot be features of the whole universe, since electrons are not expanding, have no temperature and so they would be excluded from the part of the universe that has those features. So that, for that reason, these features cannot be features of the whole universe that need an extra cause, God, to cause them. And furthermore, certainly animal and human minds have no temperature or density or expansion. And so these or any other accidental or contingent features that might be mentioned as features of the whole that don't logically follow from the parts are not really features of the whole, they are features of just large parts.

So the whole universe has no characteristics that are not logically implied by the parts. So the explanation of the existence of the whole is really a simple logical deduction from the existence of the parts, which are causally explained.

Theists and Bill might ask, what explains why this universe exists, rather than some other universe or nothing at all? My answer is that of all the possible universes, only in our universe do the parts actually cause each other to exist. Part -1 exists and is caused by part -2. But no actual causation occurs in any other possible universes and that's why they don't exist.

I think Bill and other theists will ask, as they often do in these discussions, they'll ask, well, what explains the basic laws of nature we have? My answer is not that God created them. My answer is that laws of nature are series of events that occur in similar patterns, similar to each other. The laws are nothing other than these causally connected events. The laws are caused in the sense that each event in the causally connected series is caused by another event in that series. And so that explains the causation of the laws of nature. "The laws of nature" is a funny kind of phrase. It sounds like a judicial law, when in fact laws of nature are just events in nature that are similar to each other, occurring in repeatable and regular patterns.

2.  OK, my second major argument is about morality, about the foundation of objectivity of morality. But first I'll talk about the foundation of morality. Now theists, including Bill, have a moral argument for God's existence. They say we need God in order to have a foundation or ground of morality and moral behavior. We need God, they say, to explain why moral behavior exists.

Well, I think this is false. Biologists have already explained how moral behavior came into existence and its ground or foundation. The explanation is that in mammals living millions of years ago, the mother wanted her offspring to survive and reproduce. This means the mother selected for her sex partner the male mammal who is most likely to care for the offspring. By selecting caring men, the genetic trait of caring and helping became the predominant trait of our ancestors. Caring and helping is the genetic trait we inherited, both from mothers and fathers caring for their children.

Also mammals, including early humans, could survive better if they formed a harmonious group where everybody cared for everyone else. This is the genetic origin of altruism, benevolence and the general desire to help other people. We act morally because we genetically inherited a moral conscience that tells us what we ought to do.

Further, if the theist brings in the idea that humans need the threat of punishment in Hell in order to act morally, I think the reasoning here is mistaken. Well, first of all, atheists behave just as morally as theists, as all of the various studies that have tried to determine this have now found out. And that fact alone is sufficient evidence to show that belief in God is not required to act morally. So really all you need to point out is that these studies show that atheists do behave morally. Therefore God doesn't play a part in explaining moral behavior.

And further the theistic idea of fear of punishment for acting immorally has this problem: that fear is a selfish motivation, not a moral and altruistic motivation. And if theists think that humans are purely selfish and you need to fear the punishment of God in Hell in order to act morally, the theist's theory of human nature is mistaken. It's extremely pessimistic. Humans are not purely selfish. They are selfish sometimes, but they are also innately moral and do good things just because they have a desire to do something good. The foundation of evil and good is that humans inherited from their ancestors both selfishness and caring for others.

Now objectivity of morals is a slightly different question. Now some theists such as Bill believe that unless morals are objective, we have no reason or motive to act morally. I would suggest that Bill and some other theists may be mistaken about the meaning of saying that morals need to be objective.

First, many atheists do hold that moral values exist, intrinsic to reality and are not dependent on any mind, human or divine, for their existence. So morals are objective in the strongest possible sense of the word, for these atheists. Examples of atheists who hold this are Panayot Butchvarov, Peter Railton, Nicolai Hartmann, G. E. Moore and many other atheist philosophers, including myself. I argue that there is an intrinsic moral structure of reality that is not created by humans, or God, or any other mind at all. I argue that goodness is a thing realizing its nature, its natural potentialities. And this theory I developed is rather complicated to explain so I'll just refer you - I won't say anything more about it - I'll just refer to a book in which I developed it, which is Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language published in 1997 by Yale University Press.

OK, a second point. It is not necessary that morals be objective in this strong sense in order for humans to act morally. Morals are objective in a second sense if they are not subjective. Morals are subjective if different moral values are arbitrarily created by each different person. Morals are not subjective because they are inter-subjectively valid. This means that if it's morally wrong to rape somebody, this is morally wrong for every person. This is the very meaning of moral values, that they apply to everybody. Even if these moral values are created by a genetically acquired human consciousness through the processes of evolution. "Rape is wrong" does not mean "rape is wrong for me to do, but OK for others to do". Rather it means, “rape is wrong for anyone to do”. The very meaning of morals, right, wrong, good, evil, ought to do, ought not to do, is that these values hold for everyone.

So Bill and other theists are not fully accurate if they believe inter-subjective validity is not a sense of objectivity that obligates people to act morally. So even if morality is not intrinsic to reality, but is created by humans, the mere fact that it is inter-subjectively valid among all humans, it applies to all humans, that's a sufficiently strong sense of objectivity to motivate and give humans reason to behave in a moral manner.

Furthermore, it is in fact the theist who is committed to morals being non-objective and purely subjective. The theist says something is good because a certain person, a divine person, believes it is good. God subjectively creates his own morals and imposes them on other persons and punishes them if they do not act in accordance with his subjective moral beliefs. If God exists, how do we know his subjective beliefs about morals are right? Was God morally right in murdering the Egyptians with the plague? Was he right for torturing Job? For demanding that Abraham kill his own son in order to prove that Abraham liked God better than his own son? How do we know that God is good?

There are many things that God does, or allows, that we would naturally call evil. For example, why does God allow people to die prematurely of cancer? Why are there famines and plagues, smallpox, or other diseases at all in a world a perfectly good and all-powerful God would create? Remember we're talking about God here. Bill and I share - we're talking about one definition of God. God is all-powerful. He's all knowing, perfectly good and perfectly free. So why would an all-powerful and perfectly good God create a world that had all of these terrible things in it? Bill's theory is that the goal of life is not happiness, but to come closer to God. So he says, well, suffering is not an objection to God's existence since suffering brings people closer to God. But that does not seem plausible. If I have a headache and I'm suffering from it, does that motivate me to come closer to God? If I break my leg, does that motivate me to come closer to God? Or rather to hope an ambulance comes?

And what about all the animals who are burnt to death in forest fires? If a deer Bambi burns to death and no human ever learns that this happens, how does this horrible burning lead anyone to come closer to God? Not any humans, because they don't know about it. Not Bambi, because Christians believe that deer cannot have a concept of God. So it is an evil for no purpose. The God who created such a world - would we call that God good? I would not.

I suppose - Bill says God is good by definition. I would say that the definition is false and that the theist needs to explain why it is true. But suppose it is true. Then I would respond that given that definition of God, then God doesn't exist. Because no such God would create a world like ours, full of so many evils. Bill believes that God allows suffering so that people will come closer to God. Well this is factually false. According to one survey, a Gallup poll... <time ran out>

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