Explaining Causation to Theists

Aliens Correlation CausationI can’t tell you how many times I have theists tell me they don’t understand how something works, therefore God did it.  They don’t seem to be able to get it through their heads that the only way to say “therefore God did it” is to actually demonstrate that God exists and was demonstrably responsible.

Let’s be honest.  Theists, you know you can’t produce a single shred of objective evidence for your God.  I know you can’t produce a single shred of objective evidence for your God.  Everyone knows this so stop pretending that you can.  Even the most ardent professional Christian apologist gave up trying to prove that God was real using objective evidence a long, long time ago.  They know there’s no evidence to give, that’s why, almost without exception, they’ve gone to philosophical proofs and this is really where so much of modern apologetics falls apart.

See, you can play your word games all you want, and let’s be honest, that’s all these arguments are: word games.  They don’t actually prove anything and, if deconstructed, are full of irrational claims and leaps of illogic.  I’d like to focus on one of those leaps because it’s the most common one that I run across, the seeming inability of theists to understand how causation works.

This is very closely associated with the argument from ignorance and therefore, I’m going to start by explaining exactly what that is and why it’s problematic for anyone who actually cares about factual truth and reality.  In very general terms, the argument from ignorance says that because an assertion has not been proven false, that it is therefore valid to believe as a proposition.  Essentially, it’s like saying that because we cannot prove that the pyramids in Egypt weren’t built by aliens, therefore, aliens did it.  The fact is, claims are not accepted because they are not proven false, but because they are actually proven true.  No one should believe that aliens built the pyramids unless we have actual, objective, demonstrable evidence that it is so.  This is also related to the argument from personal incredulity, another common fallacy used by theists, wherein the theist says that they cannot believe or understand the solution presented for a problem, therefore the solution cannot possibly be true and this is often followed by the theist claiming that their favored and totally unsupported explanation, usually God, is therefore what must be true instead.  This usually breaks down to “I don’t know how this happened, I don’t understand the explanation offered for what happened and the explanation that is offered makes me emotionally uncomfortable, therefore I am going to reject the explanation out of hand and assert one of my own, one that makes me feel good and validates my pre-existing beliefs.”  Theists, chime in, I’m sure that sounds very, very familiar.

The problem is, the whole thing falls apart under even the most cursory evaluation.  You’re welcome to suggest your own solutions to the problems but as soon as you do so, you’re obligated to follow the same rigorous requirements to present objective evidence and open your claims to peer review as any scientific explanation. This is why many apologists simply declare that their beliefs are beyond any rational evaluation, they’re just magically true because they want them to be true.  That’s no more worthwhile than saying that waving a magic wand makes things happen and you don’t have to prove it because it’s beyond rational evaluation.  If you’re unwilling to accept every claim of that sort, why should anyone accept your claim?

AliensBut let’s get back to causation, shall we?  If you’re going to suggest that X caused Y, or that X was responsible for Y, you need to show that X and Y are actually real.  You can’t just assert things and pretend that because you believe them, everyone else should as well.  If you’re going to claim that aliens abducted you and performed bizarre sexual experiments on you, you not only have to demonstrate that you were actually abducted, but that it was aliens that did it.  To do this, you have to prove aliens actually exist.  The same goes for God.  If you want to say that God created the universe, we follow the same steps.  We can prove that the universe exists, we’re  good there, but when it comes to proving God, we run into a brick wall.  Since we know that the typical theist arguments, the argument from ignorance and the argument from personal incredulity, are fallacious and must be rejected, we’re really stuck.  There is no evidence to support the factual existence of God, thus this idea grinds to a very quick and permanent halt, at least until someone can come up with objective evidence to support their particular version of God.

But even if you can provide evidence for your agent, you then need to prove that your agent actually performed the action which you assert he engaged in.  Even if Giorgio Tsoukalos somehow manages to prove that aliens exist, he’d still have to show that they actually performed the actions they are being accused of.  In other words, you’d need to provide a direct causal link, evidence that the aliens actually went out and kidnapped some backwoods hick, took him up into their spaceship and diddled his backside.  Every single element of this tale needs to be corroborated independently.  If you fail to do so in any regard, your claims about the event are unjustified and can be safely rejected for lack of evidence.

Yet this is exactly what theists do constantly.  They cannot prove their God exists.  They cannot provide any evidence, except their own self-imposed ignorance of the real evidence, that this unproven God actually did anything, they just claim, without evidence, that it must have been the case because it makes them feel uncomfortable to think otherwise.  However, one’s comfort doesn’t change reality, one’s desire for a particular proposition to be true doesn’t change the facts and one’s insistence that something must be true doesn’t have any bearing on whether it actually is or not.  This is something theists have to learn but I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do so any time soon.

Logic and reason exist because they help us to understand what is actually going on in the world around us.  We’ve developed systems, some of them codified into the scientific method, because they work, they produce demonstrable results, they make testable predictions and they are concerned with factual reality, not individual emotional responses.  So long as theists have nothing more than logical fallacies and are concerned with nothing more than feeling good, theists will remain the laughing stock of the intellectual community.  They have to earn their place among the rationalists and, as we all know, they’re neither interested in doing so, or capable, they hold beliefs which are laughable to anyone and everyone who doesn’t cling to them via impassioned wishful thinking.  I don’t expect theists to understand where they go wrong because to do so would to understand that they don’t have any reason to believe what they believe.  The rest of us, however, know better.

4 thoughts on “Explaining Causation to Theists

  1. I wouldn't really call Christians the 'laughing stock of the intellectual community'. There are many 'Christian intellectuals' and they receive the same credit as 'non-Christian intellectuals'. I'm not sure which circles you're travelling in, but glancing at your other posts – I would say that they aren't, as you would say, ' intellectual'. Personally I'm a Christian studying for a physics degree and have received no slack whatsoever. I think you'll find the 'intellectual community' to be rather open-minded and (i'm sure you wont like this) liberal.

    1. There are intellectuals who happen to be Christians, but they are certainly not intellectual in their Christianity. There are also intellectuals who believe in all kinds of absurd things, conspiracy theories, alien abduction advocates, etc. Those absurd things are not intellectual however. People have an amazing ability to compartmentalize, to be intelligent in some aspects of their lives and to be completely ignorant in others.

      You've just proven my point though, people who are intellectual in some things are also pretty ignorant in others, particularly their political views.

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