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Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?

ibg-wcIt is amazing, even before Freud’s psychoanalyticial theories were discredited as such, that this idea was ever accepted as anything but an utterly groundless fabrication. (134, cited below)

Oddly, a challenge I still sometimes see to Christianity (and indeed religion in general), is the notion that somehow it is merely cosmic project of some strange psychological phenomena. Although the idea didn’t originate with Freud, his theories seem to be the most popular. Freud’s idea for how religion came to be was essentially a wish-fulfillment of his own: he turned humanity’s religion into a kind of Oedipus complex.

For Freud, religion clearly often involved a father figure. Thus, he reasoned, religion must have come about over some conflict with a father figure which later caused guilt and the lifting up of a kind of father in the sky- God. The conflict, he proposed, came about due to the notion that the dominant male was the only one allowed sexual access to the women in the primitive family (I’m not making this up!). Winfried Corduan’s latest book, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism, analyzed a number of aspects of origin of religion theories which are relevant to this thesis. Freud’s theory does not survive empirical analysis.

First, Freud’s notion of shared sexuality and group sex among alleged primitive societies was a popular theory at the time, but one utterly unfounded and based upon essentially no observable evidence. Corduan noted the notion of group marriage was largely derived from presuppositions about how the origin of religion and social institutions “must have happened” (114-115). The theory itself was put forth by L.H. Morgan and not based upon observation but rather “his support of evolution and Marxist-like social theories in which he construed ordinary social conventions… as late inventions in human history” (116). Some anthropologists in the field bought into the theory and thus allowed their observations to be directed by the theory, rather than using their contradictory observations to revise the theory. In fact, their theory-driven research resulted in confusion over the actual social constructs which they were observing (116ff).

Second, Freud’s analysis of the way religion developed is itself mistaken. The climax of Freud’s story is the cannibalistic totem feast upon the Father figure as a way to honor the Father and begin the worship thereof. But Freud’s story is again bereft of observational evidence. Freud acutally used the concept of the totem feast to try to discredit Christianity with its teachings on the Lord’s Supper (communion/Eucharist). However, totem feasts are, themselves, extremely rare in totemistic societies (133-134). Totem feasts were observed in  only a few societies, but then–as Corduan noted was often the case–the irregular was applied generally and so reporting on the various societies began to rely upon the rarity rather than the norm (if indeed a “norm” can ever be said to apply to wildly diverse practices). Moreover, there is simply no record whatsoever of a cannibalistic totem feast. The very notion was invented by Freud to discredit Christianity.

Freud’s generalized application of an extremely rare and unusual practice to a theory made up through psychoanalysis of peoples who left no record and no longer exist is unfounded. His use of his theory to attempt to discredit Christianity seems to actually teach us more about Freud’s psyche than the actual origins of Christian practice.

Anyway, I’m finding this book highly informative. I highly recommend it. I have found it to be extremely thought-provoking. It is interesting to see how many things we have simply assumed to be true about the origins of religion stem from unchallenged (and unsupported) theories proposed around a hundred years ago. Perhaps it is time to revisit these theories. So far as Freud goes, it seems his bell has tolled.


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Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Sunday Quote! – Is Atheism Wishful Thinking?

tls-feserEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Atheism as Wish Fulfillment

I’ve been reading through Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. Feser is a Thomistic philosopher (one who follows in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas) and so he approaches these questions from a slightly different perspective than that of other theists who have responded to the challenge of the New Atheism. I’ve only just begun the book, but I found this quote juicy:

It is true that a fear of death, a craving for cosmic justice, and a desire to see our lives as meaningful can lead us to want to believe that we have immortal souls specially created by a God who will reward or punish us for our deeds in this life. But it is no less true that a desire to be free of traditional moral standards, and a fear of certain (real or imagined) political and social consequences of the truth of religious belief, can also lead us to want to believe that we are just clever animals with no purpose to our lives other than the purposes we choose to give them, and that there is no cosmic judge who will punish us for disobeying an objective moral law. Atheism, like religion, can often rest more on a will to believe than on dispassionate rational arguments. - Edward Feser, The Last Superstition, 10

Feser’s point is that atheists are just as capable of allowing their desires to cloud judgment when it comes to matters of philosophical judgments as are theists. Everyone has desires; the question is what the evidence is to support those desires. What do you think of this quote? How would you respond to those who assert that religious people are merely seeking wish fulfillment?


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass- In this post, David Glass, himself an able response-man to the New Atheism, highlights one primary argument atheists make regarding theism: that theists have all the burden of proof on their side.


“Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician”- A brief look at the e-book by Tom Gilson

question-week2I recently downloaded Tom Gilson’s evaluation of Peter Boghossian’s epistemology for my Kindle. The work is witty but also to the point. Gilson launched a full-on attack against Boghossian’s mission to create atheists. The best parts of the book–and let me be clear, I think the entire work is essential reading–were his critique of Boghossian’s view of faith and his appeal to Christians regarding the importance of the topic.

Gilson makes it clear how important it is to provide a reasoned answer to Boghossian’s view. However, he goes much further than that; he notes that Boghossian’s mission is specifically to destroy the faith of Christians. For any Christian, this should be a disturbing thing to hear. Unlike many other atheists, Boghossian seems to have a plan: he’s going to actively work to proselytize Christians for atheism. He may be called an atheist missionary. Gilson called Christians to see this as a serious threat for Christianity. It’s not that Christianity doesn’t have the resources to answer Boghossian’s arguments; instead, it is that we have not equipped ourselves to do so. The average Christian-in-the-pew is basically incapable of refuting Boghossian-esque reasoning, and so will, possibly, have their faith seriously challenged by arguments which are basically vacuous.

Part of Boghossian’s mission, Gilson notes, is to redefine the meaning of faith. For Boghossian, faith should always be understood as “pretending to know what one does not know” (kindle location 118). Gilson notes that not only would such a redefinition be catastrophic for people of faith [of "pretending to know..."], but it is also a completely invented definition with no basis in reality. That is, Boghossian sems to be pretending to know what he doesn’t know. On his own definition, he is very faithful.

Why think that Boghossian’s definition is wrong? Gilson offers a number of points. Among them is the fact that the redefinition of the term cannot account for its usage among the faithful. Gilson shows how the redefined “faith” would lead to an absurd meaning for any number of texts in the Bible. Not only that, but he also cites a number of Christian thinkers to demonstrate that the usage of “faith” is much more grounded in evidence and true belief than it is grounded in a “pretend” world. By the time Gilson has finished dismantling Boghossian’s usage, it becomes clear that the latter is truly living in his own fantasy. The problem is that if Christians do not equip themselves to combat it, the dream may become reality.

There are a number of other excellent portions of this quick read, such as Gilson’s direct interaction with a number of Boghossian’s interviews and writings. He also approaches Boghossian’s work from several angles, providing a solid ground for the refutation of the atheistic work.

In short, I implore you to pick up and read this work by Gilson. He has done an excellent job of showing how Boghossian’s work may prove to be a challenge to Christianity. But the greater service he has done is provided a tool to equip believers to combat this challenge. Read it, spread it. Keep the faith.


You may get Gilson’s e-book for free at this link [I am unsure of how long this offer will last]. You may also support the ministry of Ratio Christi by purchasing the e-book.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!


Tom Gilson, Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician (2014).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass

David Glass is the author of Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists published by IVP/Apollos. He writes for the apologetics website ‘Saints and Sceptics’ and has a particular interest in the relationship between science and Christianity and in how evidence should be used in debates about the existence of God. He works as a lecturer in the School of Computing and Mathematics at the University of Ulster where he does research on topics at the interface between computing and philosophy.

anc-glassIn the New Atheism and related forms of popular atheism belief in God is frequently ridiculed and dismissed without any serious consideration of the arguments. Underlying this mindset is the belief that there is a quick-and-easy argument against belief in God and that as a consequence there is no need to take theism seriously. The argument is this: in the absence of evidence for God’s existence it is much more rational to disbelieve in God than it is to believe or to adopt a neutral stance. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins makes this point by drawing on a story by Bertrand Russell. He asks us to consider how we would respond to someone who claimed that there is a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars, but which is too small to be detected by any telescope. Just because there is no way of proving that it does not exist, it does not mean that we should adopt the view that there is a 50:50 chance that it does exist. Since there is no evidence for its existence, we should believe that it does not exist or, more strictly, that its existence is very improbable. By analogy, he claims that the same applies to God.

This is a version of the presumption of atheism, the idea that the burden of proof lies with the theist to show that God exists rather than with the atheist to show that he does not. It’s important to distinguish the presumption of atheism from the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of God. In popular atheism, the two notions tend to go together with the latter point often taken for granted, but it is entirely possible to be a theist and yet embrace the presumption of atheism. Such a theist would accept the burden of proof, but claim that the burden can be met as there is plenty of evidence for God. Interestingly, it seems that the late Antony Flew, who was probably the leading advocate of the presumption of atheism in the twentieth century, eventually gave up his atheism because of the evidence for the existence of God. He still maintained, however, that the presumption of atheism was the right starting point; it’s just that the evidence for God was too convincing to ignore.

So one problem with the New Atheist approach to the presumption of atheism – what we might call the presumption of popular atheism – is that it presupposes that there is no evidence for God just as there is none for Russell’s celestial teapot. No doubt the New Atheists would claim that they have considered all the purported evidence and arguments for the existence of God, but their discussions of these topics leave a lot to be desired and are generally considered to be the weakest part of their attack on religious belief. Furthermore, their approach to the presumption of atheism seems to distort their views on what would constitute evidence for God. To take one example, does the fine-tuning of physical constants and other features of the universe constitute evidence for God? Dawkins is not impressed with the anthropic principle response to fine-tuning, the idea that we shouldn’t be surprised by the fine-tuning because we wouldn’t be here to talk about it in the absence of fine-tuning. For Dawkins, an explanation is required and so he appeals to a multiverse, the idea that our universe is only one of many. He doesn’t seem overly impressed with multiverse explanations of fine-tuning either, but he finds them preferable to design. Why? Because God is so improbable that he cannot be considered as an explanation for fine-tuning.

Notice the logic of the argument. Dawkins believes he has a good reason for adopting the presumption of atheism and hence assigning a very low probability to God. (We’ll come back to his argument for this in a moment.) He then uses this same belief to justify ruling God out as an explanation for fine-tuning and so he rejects the idea that fine-tuning can provide evidence for God.[1] In other words, his views about the presumption of atheism have determined whether fine-tuning constitutes evidence for God.

Setting aside the problems with the New Atheists’ hasty dismissal of evidence for God, what about the presumption of atheism itself? Let’s take the analogy between God and the celestial teapot. Clearly, God is not like a teapot orbiting the sun! The teapot would be just another object in the universe, admittedly a very odd one, but it would not help us to make sense of anything else. By contrast, as the Creator of the universe, God would be the most important being to exist. God would provide the ultimate reason for the universe itself, for the order within it and for our existence. As Dawkins himself points out:

a universe with a supernaturally intelligent creator is a very different kind of universe from one without. The difference between the two hypothetical universes could hardly be more fundamental in principle, even if it is not easy to test in practice.[2]

The same could hardly be said for a teapot! For this reason, the hypothesis of theism cannot be dismissed in the same way as the hypothesis of the celestial teapot.

Dawkins does not merely appeal to an analogy with the celestial teapot, but provides an argument based on organized complexity to support his contention that God’s existence is highly improbable. Unfortunately for Dawkins, this argument fails for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which is that there is no good reason to think that God would possess the kind of organized complexity required for Dawkins’ argument to work.[3]

So Dawkins and the other New Atheists have given us no good reason to embrace the presumption of atheism. And they can’t expect the rest of us to embrace it just because it is intuitively appealing to them. As atheists have generally recognized, there can be no presumption of the presumption of atheism. If it is to be embraced, a good reason is needed yet none has been provided.

In summary, the idea in popular atheism that there is an easy way to dismiss belief in God based on a presumption of atheism and the claim that there is no evidence for God does not stand up to scrutiny. If the case for God’s existence is to be evaluated seriously, presumptions and analogies with teapots are not much help.

[1] I’ll set aside the question of whether there are other good responses to fine-tuning. Here I’m only concerned with the logic of Dawkins’ argument. Interestingly, even in the context of biology, he makes use of this dubious argument.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006), p. 58.

The Unbeliever Knows God: Presuppositional Apologetics and Atheism

100_1270-2-2[A]ll men already know God–long before the apologist engages them in conversation–and  cannot avoid having such knowledge… People lack neither information nor evidence… [A]ll men know that God exists… In a crucial sense, all men already are “believers”–even “unbelievers” who will not respond properly by openly professing and living obediently in accordance with the knowledge they have of God. (Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 179-180, emphasis his, cited below).

One crucial point of presuppositional apologetics is that even the unbelieving atheist really does know God. All people have knowledge of God. None can turn from it, none can escape it: everyone knows God. This knowledge is not saving knowledge. Instead, it is knowledge which is suppressed. The knowledge is ignored or even reviled. The quote above from the famed presuppositionalist Greg Bahnsen is just one example. C.L. Bolt, a popularizer of presuppositional apologetics, says similarly:

 It is in the things that have been created that God is clearly perceived. This perception is, again, so clear, that people have no excuse. Not only do all of us believe in God, but we know God. (C.L. Bolt, cited below)

What are we to make of this claim? What is the point from the presuppositionalist perspective? The claim is firmly rooted in Paul’s discussion of God’s wrath against evil in Romans 1-2 (see the text at the end of this post). Therefore, it behooves all Christians to reflect upon the notion that God is known to all people. Presuppositional Apologists have done much reflecting on these subjects, and here we shall reflect upon their insights.

galaxy-5-2What is meant by ‘knowledge of God’?

It is important to outline what exactly it is that this knowledge is supposed to be. Greg Bahnsen notes in Van Til’s Apologetic that the claim is, in part, that “[all people/unbelievers] ‘have evidence’ that justifies the belief that [God] exists” (182).

Note that there is an important distinction within presuppositional thought about what this knowledge of God means. John Frame makes it clear that there is a sense in which the unbeliever knows God and yet another sense in which the unbeliever does not know God (Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God 49, cited below). According to Frame, the unbeliever knows “enough truths about God to be without excuse and may know many more…”; but “unbelievers lack the obedience and friendship with God that is essential to ‘knowledge’ in the fullest biblical sense–the knowledge of the believer” (ibid, 58). Furthermore, the unbeliever, according to Frame, is in a state wherein he fights the truth: the unbeliever denies, ignores, or psychologically represses the truth, among other ways of acknowledging God as the truth (ibid).

Frame also makes clear the reasons why all people know God in at least the limited sense: “God’s covenental presence is with all His works, and therefore it is inescapable… all things are under God’s control, and all knowledge… is a recognition of divine norms for truth. Therefore, in knowing anything, we know God” (18). Frame elaborates: “[B]ecause God is the supremely present one, He is inescapable. God is not shut out by the world… all reality reveals God” (20).

Therefore, this knowledge should be understood as the blatant, obvious awareness of God found in the created order. It is not saving faith or saving knowledge; instead, it is knowledge which holds people culpable for its rejection. All are accountable before God.

df-van-tilThe Implications of the Knowledge of God

The Practical Implications of the Knowledge of God

Of primary importance is the notion that there is no true atheism. Instead, atheism can only be a kind of pragmatic or living atheism: a life lived as though there were no God. All people know that God exists. The eminent Calvinist theologian, William Greenough Thayer Shedd writes, “The only form of atheism in the Bible is practical atheism” (Shedd, Dogmatic Theology Kindle location 5766). This means that people can live as though there were no God, but none can genuinely lack knowledge of God. Atheism is a practical reality, but not a genuine reality. The very basis for a denial of God is grounded on truths which can only be true if God exists. Here is where the distinctiveness of the presuppositional approach to apologetics

Van Til notes, “It is… imperative that the Christian apologist be alert to the fact that the average person to whom he must present the Christian religion for acceptance is a quite different sort of being than he himself thinks he is” (The Defense of the Faith, 92). His meaning is directly applicable to the discussion above. Christian apologists must take into account the fact that the Bible clearly states that those who do not believe in God themselves know God already.

Furthermore, this knowledge of God is of utmost importance. Bahnsen writes, “Our knowledge of God is not just like the rest of our knowledge… The knowledge that all men have of God… provides the framework or foundation for any other knowledge they are able to attain. The knowledge of God is the necessary context for learning anything else” (181). As was hinted at above, without God, there is no knowledge. Even the unbeliever relies upon God for any true beliefs he has. Van Til notes, “our meaning… depends upon God” (63).

Apologetics in Practice

For presuppositionalists, this means that apologetics is reasoning with people who already know and use their knowledge of God to ground whatever knowledge they do have and bringing them to an awareness of their double-standards. They reject God in practice, but accept God in their epistemology. Thus, presuppositional apologists use the transcendental argument: an argument which seeks to show that without God, the things which we take for granted (knowledge, logic, creation, etc.) would not exist.

Can evidentialists use the insights of presuppositionalists here as well? It seems they must; for the Bible does clearly state that everyone knows God. However, the way evidentialists may incorporate this insight is by using an evidential approach to bring the unbeliever into an awareness of the knowledge they are rejecting in practice. Thus, a cosmological argument might be offered in order to bring the unbeliever into an awareness that their assumptions about the universe can only be grounded in a creator.


We have seen that presuppositional apologetists makes use of the knowledge of God attested in all people by Romans 1 in order to draw out a broadly presuppositional approach to apologetics. I have also given some insight into how evidentialists might use this approach in their own apologetic. We have seen that the core of this argument is that all people know God. Therefore, there are no true atheists; only practical atheists. All true knowledge must be grounded on the fact of God. There are none with an excuse to offer before God at judgment. God’s existence is clear. The unebeliever knows God.

I end with the Biblical statement on the state of the knowledge of the unbeliever, as written by Paul in Romans 1:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…


Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

Unbeliever’s suppression of the truth-A brief overview of the notion that unbelievers are suppressing the truth from a presuppositional perspective.

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til- I analyze the apologetic approach of Cornelius Van Til, largely recognized as the founder of the presuppositional school of apologetics.

Choosing Hats- A fantastic resource for learning about presuppostional apologetics.


C.L. Bolt, “An Informal Introduction to Covenant Apologetics: Part 10 – Unbeliever’s knowledge of God.

Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998).

John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987).

Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (4th edition, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008).

Shedd Dogmatic Theology (3rd edition, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 3/3/12

The really recommended posts this go-round feature Richard Dawkins, bioethics, philosopher’s opinions, women in the ministry, and more!

Arguments about Jesus’ resurrection are fascinating, and can be extremely useful in the question of theism. See this great article which features rigorous application of probability theory to the arguments from the resurrection.

Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show On Earth claims to show the undeniable evidence for evolution. Does it succeed? Jonathan Mclatchie does not think so and has written an excellent, lengthy review to show how Dawkins fails.

Philip Payne, the author of “Man and Woman, One in Christ” (which I reviewed here) has an excellent web site which responds to many criticisms of his positions. Those interested in the issue of women in the ministry should look into it.

No peer reviewed papers advocating intelligent design? False! Check out this list.

After birth abortions? Basically the logical conclusions of the general pro-choice position. Read more.

Prosblogion conducted a survey about philosopher’s opinions on theistic arguments. The results are mostly unsurprising, but interesting nevertheless. Check it out.

If materialism, are there subjects?

In this post I seek to establish one premise: If materialism is true, there are no subjects.

There has been much extended discussion in my post on atheism’s universe, wherein (in the comments) I asserted that, on atheism, there are no subjects. It is high time I clarified my position and drew out its implications.

Materialism and Atheism

My argument is based upon a materialist or physicalist view of reality [I use the terms 'materialism' and 'physicalism' interchangeably here--I realize they are sometimes used to delineate differences between hard and soft materialists, but for the sake of this post one may assume that any time I mention "physicalism" I mean materialism at large]. I am asserting that: if physicalism is true, there are no such things as “subjects.” I’ve briefly argued elsewhere (see the post linked above) that the only consistent atheism is materialistic. For atheists who are not materialists, I leave it to them to show that their view consistently allows for immaterial entities.

The Nature of a “Subject”

One constant objection to my position is that I never defined what I meant by “subject.” One reason I did not seek to define the term is because  I did not want the debate to boil down into a semantic war over the meaning of subject. There are some features of “subjects” which most parties agree upon, but how to lay out those features is hotly debated. Further, I did not wish to beg the question against the materialist by defining a subject in such a way that no materialist ontology could even attempt to approach it (suppose I defined a “subject” as a “wholly mental feature of reality which acts as the center of consciousness”; in such a case, I’ve added nothing to the discussion because I’ve excluded materialism from the debate without argument).

There is no easy way to define what is meant by “a subject.” I will seek now to define it as broadly as possible, so as to avoid any questions begged.

A Subject: 

  1. Is the referent of the term, “I”
  2. Endures from moment-to-moment as one being. A subject would be the same subject at T2 as it was at T1.
  3. Accounts for any mental states–whether they are actually aphysical or physical.

Hopefully these terms are agreeable to both sides. I’m sure people on either side will want to flesh out the notion of “subject” more, but it seems to me that these points can be acknowledged by all. The first point seems to be fairly clearly true. It is “I” who experience x and not someone else. The second point is necessary for subjects because otherwise “I” would be a different “I” from T1 to T2, and in fact not be the same being at all. The third point, likewise, seems fairly obvious, because it seems mental life is what comprises a subject to begin with. Whether the image in my mind of a cat is a purely physical phenomenon or not, any theory of the mind must take it into account.

Materialism Fails to Account for One and Many

On materialism, what is it that is the referent of the term “I”? Is it my brain (only)? Is it my body? What am “I”? I will here offer a brief argument that no materialist account can take seriously the notion that “I” am distinct from other entities. It is, basically, an offshoot of the “one and the many” problem in philosophy.

Materialism holds that all which exists is matter. Thus, “I” am composed of matter. The problem is distinguishing between everything else and me, for ultimately “I” am just a rearrangement of matter. Suppose that all matter is referred to as (M), and I am referred to by (I). Ultimately, on materialism, (I) is reducible to (M), which is really just all real being on materialism. Why suppose there are separate entities, (I) and (I2) and (I3) when all are, ultimately, (M)? It is much simpler to just suppose that (M) is all and that (I), (I2), and (I3) are (M) in rearranged forms.

Now I don’t suppose for a moment this isn’t highly contentious. Some will come along and say that their own experience is enough to confirm that they are a different being from every other. But why suppose this? Ultimately, that conscious experience is reducible to the brain, which is reducible to matter, which is everything. On materialism, there really is just one “thing”: the material universe as a whole. The “parts” of this “thing” are ultimately reducible to smaller and smaller particles which comprise all the “things” themselves. Ultimately, all is matter, merely arranged in different ways at different times. I’m not suggesting that matter is some kind of single entity. It is particulate. But matter is also one kind of thing. Ultimately, on materialism, all things are just this kind of thing: material. The only way to differentiate between them is by time and place, but even then every individual thing is itself composed of particles of matter. All things are reducible to the same thing.

What can save materialists from this? Materialists would have to embrace a robust metaphysics in order to supply a way out for the problem of “the one and the many.” Yet it seems to me that no materialist can take seriously a robust metaphysics, because they would then have to posit distinctions between entities that are aphysical. Positing such entities or properties would be decidedly contrary to materialism. For example, one solution is that entities are distinct in that all share being itself, but they also have essences which distinguish them from other things (see Clarke, 72ff, cited below). For a materialist to embrace this, they would have to hold that each individual person has an immaterial essence which is such that it makes it distinct from other entities. But of course, that would fly in the face of materialism. It seems to me, therefore, that materialism has no way to answer the problem of “the one and the many.”

Materialism Fails to Provide Enduring Identity

On what basis can a materialist affirm that I, J.W., am the same subject now as I was 20 years ago? All my matter has been replaced. There is no material component of me which is the same as it was back then. Yet my experience tells me that I am the same subject.

How can materialists account for this?

One possibility is that they can simply point out that I am numerically identical to my past self. Although the individual pieces of matter which comprise me are not the same as they were 20 years ago, they were replaced only in portions, during which my body endured as a totality.

The difficulty with this scenario is that it only serves to underscore the problems with materialism. Imagine a mad scientist, who, over the course of a day, cuts my brain into 24 pieces. Each hour, he removes one piece of my brain and places it into another body, which has no brain. He simultaneously replaces the piece of brain with an exact molecular copy. After the day, there is a body which has my brain in it, and my body, which has a copy of my brain in it. Which is me? And, if that question can be answered on materialism (which I doubt), when did my body/brain cease being me and transfer to the other body/brain?

Materialism simply cannot answer these questions. The worldview is baffled by them. Yet in order for something to be a subject, it must endure through time. On materialism, I have not endured through time at all. My entire being–from my fingers to the hairs on my head to my brain–is material, and has been replaced by new material. Where am “I”?

Materialism Cannot Account for Mental States

There are at least five features of mental states which materialism cannot take into account. They are:

  • The feeling of “‘what-it-is-like’ to have a mental state such as a pain”
  • Intentionality
  • Inner, private, and immediate access to the subject
  • Subjective ontology which is irreducible to the third person
  • They lack spatial extension, location, etc. (Adapted from Moreland, 20, cited below)

While delving into these in great detail is beyond the reach of this post, I have already addressed a few of them in my post arguing for Substance Dualism against Monism. It seems that, on materialism, one must embrace supervenience and epiphenominalism in order to preserve mental states. Consider the following:

When I experience thought A’, it is because of a prior brain state, A. My mental states are either identical to, or supervenient upon, the physical state of my brain. The problem with this is that it relegates mental states to epiphenomenalism… This is because the mental state is entirely dependent upon (or identical to) the brain state. On physicalism, a mental state does not occur without a brain state occurring prior to, or in conjunction with, it.

…If it is always the case that Brain state A=> Mental state A’, then Brain state A causes whatever actions we take, for the brain state entails the mental state, which itself is identical to or supervenient upon the brain state to exist. But then, if we cut mental state A’ out of the equation, we would still have Brain state A and the action. Thus, consciousness is entirely superfluous. (Wartick,

Reflection upon the supervenience of the mental on the physical leads materialist philosopher Jaegwon Kim to writes:

To think that one can be a serious physicalist and at the same time enjoy the company of things and phenomena that are nonphysical [by this he is referring to consciousness, the causal powers of thought, etc.], I believe, is an idle dream. (Kim, 120, cited below)


Objection 1: One of the most common objections I have encountered when I reason in this fashion is the common sense objection: “I think, therefore I am a subject!” or, as one commented on another post, “I’m an [atheist]. I have meaning. It’s possible.”

Such notions are scoffed at by materialist philosophers. Paul Churchland, the famed materialist and philosopher of mind, writes:

You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences.  That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language… These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called ‘Folk psychology’ to acknowledge if as the common property of folks generally.  Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.

In other words, the notion that “I’m a subject! I have meaning!” is nothing more than a philosophical dinosaur, a remnant of our ‘folk psychology’ which we should cast off now that we know the truth of materialism. Those who object in such a fashion as materialists seem to be blissfully unaware that they stand aligned against the vast majority of materialistic philosophy of mind. They must justify their position, but cannot, as they arguments above have shown.

Objection 2: Neuroscience has shown that the brain is the center of consciousness. When we think things, we can observe specific areas of activity in the brain. 

This objection is clearly mistaken. The previous arguments have sought to establish the premise: On materialism, there are no subjects. I could easily grant Objection 2 without doing any damage to my arguments. Sure, when we “think thoughts” we may be able to observe effects in the brain. How does it then follow that “we” are subjects? All that this has done–assuming I grant it–is show that our consciousness is somehow related to our brains. It doesn’t demonstrate that mind is identical to brain, nor does it justify the position that “I am a subject.” In fact, it seems to undermine the notion that materialism can explain subjects, because it implies, once more, that “I” am reducible to “my brain” which is, of course, reducible to its component matter as well.

Conclusion: That There Are No Subjects on Materialism and the Implications Thereof

Any one of these problems provides insurmountable problems for materialists who believe they are, themselves, subjects. There is no way, on materialism, to distinguish the one from the many; there is no way for subjects to endure; mental states are reduced to causally inert epiphenomena; and there is no way to account for mental phenomena.

Thus, if atheism is committed to materialism, and materialism cannot account for subjects, it  follows that, without question, there is no meaning on atheism. There cannot even be subjective meaning, for to reference something as a “subject” is, itself, illusory.


Jaegwon Kim, Mind in a Physical World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (London, UK: SCM Press, 2009).

Paul Churchland,The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).

W. Norris Clark, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame, 2001).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 10/22

Why Do Atheists Talk So Much About Religion?- A short, interesting post with a self-explanatory title. Check it out.

Ah, Richard Dawkins, when will he learn that attacking people doesn’t make their views wrong? His buddy PZ Myers has actually attacked me personally as well, but that’s beside the point. Check out Max Andrews’ thoughts on Dawkins refusing to debate Craig. Dawkins, of course, enlists the help of his yes man Myers.

Undesigned Coincidences and the Historicity of the New Testament- This is a great apologetics video making the rounds. The “undesigned coincidences” argument is one which is slowly seeing a revival–in part due to Dr. Tim McGrew, a friend of mine and a phenomenal philosopher. Check it out.

A Review of “The Magic of Reality”- Dawkins has been adamant that we should not indoctrinate our children. Yet his new book is intended to do just that: indoctrinate children with atheism. Check out this timely review over at Deeper Waters.

Sharing the Gospel – 10 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Talking with Cult Members (part 1)- it is what it says… some great hints for witnessing when the cults come a-knockin’.

The Book of Mormon, 1/18- part one of a series in which an apologist reads through the Book of Mormon. Great stuff.

Thermodynamics, the Past, and the Multiverse: Arguing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

[I]t seems impossible to disprove, a priori, the possibility of an infinite past time. -J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, 93.

I wrote recently about several objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, but I wasn’t able to cover even the most common objections in one post. Here, I’ll examine a few more objections to the argument, as well as offer critiques and more links to read.

Matter can be neither created nor destroyed

A common objection to the Kalam Cosmological Argument (hereafter KCA or Kalam) is against its principles of causation. The atheist points out the principle of the conservation of energy: that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but only change forms (it can equally be said that “matter can be neither created nor destroyed…”). Applying this to the Kalam, they argue that because the KCA asserts the universe began and was caused, it cannot be true–matter cannot come into existence.

There are several problems with this objection. First, it assumes a causal principle: that only material causes exist. For it is true that the conservation of energy applies to material causation, but it may not apply to immaterial causation. “Ah,” the atheist may counter, saying, “but why think that there is immaterial causation anyway?” Why? Because that’s exactly what the KCA is made to demonstrate: that the universe was caused by an immaterial entity. The first premise (Everything that begins has a cause) would indeed have to surrender to the conservation of energy… but only if it is assumed that the cause is material. The Kalam is presenting an immaterial cause, creating the universe ex nihilo–out of nothing. For more on this objection, see William Lane Craig’s answer to the question “Must everything have a material cause?”

Second, using the conservation of energy to argue against the beginning of the universe reveals confusion about cosmology to begin with. Scientists can extrapolate back to the beginning of the big bang–which is the moment when both space and time came into existence, along with all of the material world (Craig and Copan, cited below, 222ff). So we know scientifically that there was a moment when there was no matter at all. It was created, not out of other matter, but out of nothing. Here is the key to note: it is once the universe came into existence that the laws of nature came into effect–before the universe, there was nothing.

Third, if it is true that matter has never been created or destroyed, matter and energy would be eternal. But if that is the case, then due to another law of thermodynamics–entropy–the entire universe would have evened out all the energy by now. There would be no stars burning, no people breathing, etc. Thus, it is easy to see scientifically that the universe is not eternal.

Infinite Past is No Problem

The late atheistic philosopher J.L. Mackie objected to the Kalam from a different perspective. He felt that there was a problem with the way William Lane Craig tried to establish a finite past. He argues that “[The Kalam] assumes that, even if past time were infinite, there would still have been a starting-point of time, but one infinitely remote, so that an actual infinity would have had to be traversed to reach the present from there. But to take the hypothesis of infinity seriously would be to suppose that there was no starting-point…” (Mackie, 93, cited below).

William Lane Craig and Paul Copan point out that, “On the contrary, the beginningless character of the series of past events only serves to underscore the difficulty of its formation by successive addition. The fact that there is no beginning at all, not even an infinitely distant one, makes the problem worse, not better” (Craig and Copan, 214, cited below). It’s not that defenders of the Kalam argue that if the past is infinite, one could not count to the present–rather, it’s that if the past is literally infinite, there is no beginning, and one could never reach the present moment by successive addition.

If one finds this line of reasoning unconvincing, however, one must also deal with the empirical problem with an infinite past: entropy. If the universe has existed forever, then all the energy in the universe should have evened out by now. We would simply not observe the universe we do. Thus, both philosophically and scientifically, we can discount the idea of an infinite past.

The Multiverse, Redux 

I addressed the multiverse in my previous post on the topic, but it should be noted how much of a difficulty there is for those wishing to use the multiverse to discredit the Kalam. Jeffrey Zweerink points out that according to Arvind Borde, Alexander Vilenkin, and Alan Guth, “any cosmos that expands on average (like an inflationary multiverse) must have a beginning in the finite past” (Zweerink, 32, cited below). The multiverse does not help those trying to avoid a beginning for the universe, it merely pushes the problem up one level.


Again, after subjecting the  Kalam Cosmological Argument to multiple objections, it emerges unscathed. It establishes its conclusion: the universe has a cause. What does this mean? That’s a question we should all consider of utmost importance.


An outline of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument- A survey of some philosophical and popular attacks on the KCA along with rebuttals.


William Lane Craig and Paul Copan,Creation out of Nothing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York, NY: Oxford, 1982).

Jeffrey Zweerink, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? (Reasons to Believe, 2008).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Multiverse Created Itself” and “Who made God after all?” -The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. -Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, 135.

Is this so reasonable? Is it true that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing? The Kalam Cosmological Argument is one of the most compelling arguments for theism. The broad opposition to the Kalam (or, more specifically, to its implications) from atheists has lead to some sophisticated arguments (like those of Graham Oppy or J.L Mackie), but it has also lead to some pretty poor arguments. Below, several objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument have been outlined, along with rebuttals of varying lengths.

The Multiverse?

Some have objected to the Kalam by raising the possibility of a multiverse. They say that this counters the Kalam because it’s possible that our universe is one of nearly infinite past universes, generated as another “bubble” among untold trillions of other bubble universes. There should be one glaring difficulty with this objection that most can see immediately: “Whence the multiverse?” If the multiverse is proposed as eternal, then every objection about actual infinites applies to the multiverse. Not only that, but the multiverse itself would have to account for entropy. How is it that all the energy in this (nearly) infinite multiverse has not been used if it has existed for all eternity?

Ways around these difficulties have been proposed. For example, regarding entropy, some have argued that perhaps different laws of nature apply to the multiverse as a whole. Clearly, this is an extremely ad hoc theory that is really only invented to try to get around the argument. Once we’re allowed to modify reality to our every whim, we could indeed create anything we like–including (nearly) infinite universes.

Another problem with the multiverse objection is that we have startlingly little evidence for such a hypothesis. While there are many hypothetical scientists proposing bubble universes and the like, it’s shocking to read just how little evidence there really is for such a hypothesis.

Finally, even were there an infinite multiverse–as some have proposed due to string theory–this would not avoid an absolute beginning for the entirety of the multiverse. Bruce Gordon points out that the standard inflationary models still use inflation with a finite duration, which would entail that regardless of the number of universes which exist, there would still have to be an absolute beginning to the multiverse (Gordon, cited below, 86-87).

Perhaps, however, this multiverse (or the universe) is finite, but it created itself. There are a number of proposals suggesting just that.

The Universe Created Itself

I don’t think I can do much better than Edgar Andrews did over at his blog when he asks “Could a universe create itself?” He points out that the difficulty with each scenario proposed in which the universe creates itself is that it presupposes the existence of either matter, energy, or the laws of nature–the very things which this objection is supposed to answer. Andrews writes,

 Stephen Hawking [who recently proposed the universe created itself] falls into this dilemma by claiming that the universe was created as a result of quantum mechanical fluctuations (in a vacuum) which became stabilized by gravitational forces [Hawking pp. 131-135; Hawking review]. He thus requires the laws of quantum mechanics and of gravity to have pre-existed the universe… But what is the law of gravity but a description of the way materialbodies interact — either with one another or with the space-time continuum? To claim that such a law existed in the absence of matter, energy, space or time stretches credulity and is incapable of demonstration. Only ‘mind of God’ and ‘non-material blueprint’ arguments remain and these are theological not scientific.

Similarly, suppose we took the claim of Smith (above) seriously–that the universe created itself from nothing. Does this even make sense? William Lane Craig writes, “…if prior to the existence of the universe, there was absolutely nothing–no God, no space, no time–how could the universe possibly have come to exist?” This is an extremely important question for the atheist to answer. Most often, however, atheists have instead changed the meaning of “nothing” to mean quantum vacuum or some other physical reality. This is hardly “nothing” that would have existed before the universe. Before the universe, there was no space, no time, no anything.

Edgar Andrews points out the confusion that some atheist philosophers and physicists perpetuate with this conflation of “nothing”:

[Victor Stenger] begins by utterly confusing the pre-creation ‘nothing’ that lies outside of space-time with the ‘nothing’ of a vacuum within space-time. Next, without making it clear which ‘nothing’ he is talking about, he claims that ‘the transition from nothing to something is a natural one, not requiring any agent.’ (Andrews, 97, cited below).

The problem isn’t solved when one lends it the idea of a multiverse, either. Oscillating universe models still imply a finite beginning (Gordon, 86ff). The idea that an infinite number of universes caused each other in a causal loop does no better–it leads only to a vicious regress. Ultimately, such proposals must be rejected for what they are–fiction.

Who Caused God?

Another trite response to the Kalam is the classic “Well fine, you say the universe is caused, well who caused God?” line. Here the atheist commits a number of classic blunders, to steal the phrase from “The Princess Bride.”

First, as in all scientific (and otherwise) inquiry, once one has reached the best possible explanation for an event, one has reached the end of the inquiry. An inference to the best explanation does not require an explanation of that explanation. There’s a reason that scientific inquiry can appeal to laws: they best explain how the world works.

Second, the first part of the Kalam is that “Everything which begins to exist has a cause” not  “Everything is caused.” The atheist has merely misread or misinterpreted this principle. Should the atheist want to press the second point–that everything is caused, they have already conceded the weaker principle (that everything which begins has a cause), and they must further argue for a much stronger metaphysical claim. I leave it to the atheist to establish this claim.

“But,” the atheist may object, “you’re just denying the antecedent!” Not quite. I’m not saying that God didn’t begin, therefore God was uncaused–rather, I’m arguing that because God did not begin, this argument does not apply to God. There could be other arguments made to establish that God is caused, but to do so would require, as I pointed out, arguing for the metaphysical principle that “everything is caused.” Again, I leave the atheist to make this argument.


While many objections to the Kalam might be made in good faith, it is clear upon examination that they all fall far short of defeating the argument. The Kalam Cosmological Argument succeeds in its goal: to show that the universe is caused. What is this cause? That’s a question we must all consider with fear and trembling.


Those interested in a broad outline of the Kalam Cosmological Argument can read my post on the topic.

For a discussion of one both Richard Dawkins’ and Graham Oppy’s objections to the Kalam, read Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument.


Edgar Andrews, “Could a universe create itself?”

Edgar Andrews, Who Made God (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009). Reviewed here.

Bruce Gordon, “Inflationary Cosmology and the String Multiverse” in New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010).

William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, Creation Out of Nothing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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