Stefan Molyneux, well known anarcho-capitalist host of Freedomain Radio, is also an advocate of atheism. He’s the author of Against the Gods? A Concise Guide to Atheism and Agnosticism. I decided to write a critique of this book. Such a critique is not entirely necessary (I hope), but I’ve done it anyway, since it is well within my abilities.
Against the Gods? is written in Molyneux’s signature style—a confused mixture of good points and terrible ones.
The primary purpose of the book is to refute agnosticism. I’m no fan of agnosticism, nor do I wish to defend it, but Molyneux has not achieved his goal at all. He set up a straw man and set fire to it. He does a good job of setting fire to it, but it’s just a straw man.
This is how Molyneux defines agnosticism in the description of his book:
Between the poles of strong atheism and strict theism lies agnosticism, the argument that gods are very unlikely, but cannot logically be ruled out as utterly impossible.
I don’t think that’s the correct definition.
a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god. —Merriam-Webster
Read the entry on agnosticism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Not one of the possible definitions given ressembled Molyneux’s—that an agnostic must be one who leans heavily toward atheism.
Furthermore, Molyneux abandons his here-given definition for most of his book, instead regarding agnostics as those who agree that gods are logically impossible, but remain neutral anyway. What a flammable straw man!
According to Molyneux, agnostics say that gods, though logically impossible, may exist in another dimension or universe, and we thus can’t say that gods certainly don’t exist.
I don’t know many agnostics, and I haven’t discussed agnosticism with many people (1?), but this doesn’t sound like a real position.
Much of his book is about refuting the above position. I won’t cover these parts.
He spends the first of the chapter complaining about the word "atheism" and its definition. These are inherently biased terms and definitions, he says. Believe it or not, this is where the title of the book comes from. He complains that atheists are said to be “against the gods” as if they have something personal against gods, when they don’t. He chose this as his title.
Actually, I think Molyneux does have some personal reasons for rejecting theism. Most atheists feel the need to replace God with a Leviathan state. Molyneux, on the other hand, hates authority, so he rejects both God and state.
Two main errors are generally made when examining the existence of gods.
The first is to ignore the basic fact that gods cannot logically exist, and the second is to accept such logical impossibilities, but to create some imaginary realm where gods may exist. (p. 12)
“Gods cannot logically exist” is a basic fact, apparently. Will Molyneux show us this obvious truth? He’ll try.
Also notice that second error. Is it really that common?
How does Molyneux disprove God? He offers four arguments. The first time I read these, I laughed. These are the worst four atheistic arguments against God I’ve ever heard. What’s more, he offers little to no defence of them. Nor does he provide references for further evaluation of these arguments.
The four arguments
First of all, we know from biology that even if an eternal being could exist, it would be the simplest being conceivable. An eternal being could never have evolved, since it does not die and reproduce, and therefore biological evolution could never have layered levels of increasing complexity over its initial simplicity. We all understand that the human eye did not pop into existence without any prior development; and the human eye is infinitely less complex than an omniscient and omnipotent god. Since gods are portrayed as the most complex beings imaginable, they may well be many things, but eternal cannot be one of them." (p. 15)
Has nobody told Molyneux that biology is the study of Earth's living things, and doesn't apply to non-physical beings? Has nobody told him that God was not created by reproduction, but exists by the necessity of his own nature?
Furthermore, God is not actually complex. He’s simple, in that he has maximal values for all objective qualities. His thoughts may be complex, but he is not. He has no moving parts.
As an example of how ridiculous it is to confuse the metaphysical with the physical, let us take a certain idea. “This idea has existed for thousands of years,” you say. “Impossible,” Molyneux responds. “Paper doesn’t last that long.”
"Secondly, we also know that consciousness is an effect of matter – specifically biological matter, in the form of a brain. Believing that consciousness can exist in the absence of matter is like believing that gravity can be present in the absence of mass, or that light can exist in the absence of a light source, or that electricity can exist in the absence of energy. Consciousness is an effect of matter, and thus to pos- tulate the existence of consciousness without matter is to create an insurmountable paradox, which only proves the nonexistence of what is being proposed." (Pp. 15-16)
Except that consciousness is not an effect of matter. Quite the opposite: consciousness is an effect of the spirit, and cannot exist without it. Thus, materialism is impossible. Molyneux gives no evidence that consciousness is an effect of matter.
I have evidence to the contrary:
If naturalism is true, human consciousness is nothing but brain activity. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that consciousness can continue even when there is no brain activity. Why is naturalism considered a viable worldview when it has been decisively refuted by scientific research? (source)
There’s even an argument from consciousness, which argues for God’s existence using the non-physicality of consciousness.
Thirdly, omniscience cannot coexist with omnipotence, since if a god knows what will happen tomorrow, said god will be unable to change it with- out invalidating its knowledge. If this god retains the power to change what will happen tomorrow, then it cannot know with exact certainty what will happen tomorrow. (P. 16)
I will grant Molyneux that this is the best of his arguments, but I still don’t think it’s good.
Those things which God knows will happen tomorrow are caused by God himself.
Consider a person whom we’ll call Philemon. Philemon knows what he’ll do tomorrow. He’s sure of it, and he’s right. Does this mean that his knowledge restricts his power? Of course not!
The fourth objection to the existence of deities is that an object can only rationally be defined as existing when it can be detected in some manner, either directly, in the form of matter and/or energy, or indirectly, based upon its effects on the objects around it, such as a black hole. (P. 17)
Again, Molyneux is wrong and doesn’t provide any reason to believe he’s right. A thing can exist without being detectable.
In any case, God is detectable. That’s what the teleological argument’s all about, and that’s what Plantinga’s epistemology is all about.
However, the Bible commands believers to kill gays, atheists, sorcerers, heretics, disobedient children and witches and just about everyone else who draws breath. (p. 29)
On page 34 Molyneux says that the idea of gods existed before arguments for gods did, so belief in god cannot be justified. This is both genetic fallacy and chronological snobbery. Also, if God communicated directly with humans, as the Bible says, then they obviously had good reason to believe (not to mention Plantinga’s epistemology).
On page 39, he presents a list of supposed theistic absurdities.
- “That which exists must have been created, but God, who exists, was never created.”
Straw man. Rather, that which began to exist need have been created.
- “God is all-knowing and all-powerful, which are both impossible.”
Even if we take his above argument (#3) to be sound, he has not established that they are both impossible. He has only established that they cannot coexist.
- “God punishes a man for actions which are predetermined.”
That’s Calvinism. Don’t pretend we all believe it.
- “God punishes rebellious angels, although their rebellion was completely predetermined.”
I don’t think even Calvinists believe this.
- “God claims to be morally perfect, although God fails the test of most of his 10 Commandments.”
On page 40 he says:
For any religion that involves prayer or supplication to be valid, the following steps must all be rationally validated and empirically proven:
If a religion is proven true, the individual doctrines needn’t all be independently proven. Also, why must they be “empirically” proven?
1 A deity must exist (call him “Jeb”).
2 Jeb must have the interest and power to interfere in the universe.
3 Jeb must have the interest and willingness
to interfere in human affairs.
4 Jeb must listen to prayers, rather than just
5 Jeb must only listen to prayers from the
members of a particular sect.
6 Jeb must monitor and record good and bad
7 Ideally, Jeb must punish the members of al
ternate sects, or those who pray in an
incorrect or inconsistent fashion.
8 Jeb must also not reward those who do not
give money to his priests – and ideally, punish said folks.
Point 8 doesn’t belong on the list.
That’s about it
That’s essentially all there is to Molyneux’s book. At some point in the future, I may cover his Universally Preferable Behaviour.