You may have seen a video doing the rounds recently on Facebook. You may even have shared it around yourself. If you did, this post is not designed to make you feel bad, but to ask some questions about how useful they are. I’m not sure videos like this are particularly useful. Sometimes they can do more harm than good.
In case you haven’t seen the video. It’s called “Kalam Cosmological Argument”, but it’s been doing the rounds as part of a blog post called ‘Warning: This Video May Be Dangerous To Your Atheism’. Here is a link:
Not a knock-down argument
The video is undeniably very well made. It is stimulating and interesting to watch, and sums up what are pretty complex scientific and philosophical ideas in ways that are engaging and understandable. Like most people, I haven’t studied philosophy or science to a high level, but I was able to follow along pretty easily.
That’s kind of good. But it’s also kind of bad.
The truth is, these are deeply complex arguments and ideas. People with big brains have been developing and interacting with these ideas for hundreds of years. Importantly, all through history people who can grasp these complexities far better than I can have remained divided on the issue.
In fact there are some pretty good counter-arguments. You don’t have to look far to find them. Here’s an article I found which gives a fairly solid critique of the ‘cosmological argument’ which the video provides. In essence, it says this: If, as the cosmological argument states, everything that exists must have a beginning and a cause, saying ‘the universe must have a cause so there must be a god’ isn’t enough because by the same logic this ‘god’ must have a beginning and a cause.
Of course a Christian would say God has no beginning, but that’s moving away from science and philosophy toward faith statements. If we’re going to do that – if the basis of what we believe is ultimately faith, not purely reason – then why use a video like this at all?
More likely to get people’s backs up?
In fact, far from convincing someone there is a God, I think this is more likely to annoy and get non-Christians’ backs up. Imagine watching a video like this from the point of view of an atheist whose Christian friend put it on Facebook.
Maybe they watch it and think ‘Wow! That’s pretty compelling stuff. Seems pretty plausible. Maybe I have been wrong all this time.’ Chances are one of the first things they do (since they’re clearly not averse to internet-based research) is a Google search to see if it’s as compelling as they thought. Very quickly all fears are allayed as they find some robust defences. What impression are they left with? Isn’t it likely to be this: ‘Hmmm, that Christian video was a very one-sided and simplistic presentation. In fact it was a little manipulative.’
Or maybe they’ve already come across this sort of argument before, and know the counter-arguments. Might they be excused for thinking their friend should have looked into it a little more before sharing? That if their friend is going to present this as an argument for their faith they should also be able to defend it against criticism? And if their friend were unable to do so – having willingly used this video as a defence of faith – mightn’t our atheist doubt the strength of their friend’s reasons for their faith?
Is there a better way?
I wonder if videos like this are a good place to start a conversation, but only if we are ourselves able to debate at that level. I know that at present I am not, and I’d prefer not to unwittingly present something as ‘checkmate’ unless it is.
I think there’s a better way, but it’s also harder. Let’s be honest. It’s really easy to see a video (or a blog post, song, meme, whatever), think ‘that’s quite good’, and just hit share or retweet without actually engaging with the content at any deeper level. What if we only ever linked people to things that we were able to discuss it properly? It’d probably mean we’d share a little less and engage with things a little more. But we might see it having a better effect.
I’m convinced that the internet can be a brilliant way of engaging with others about our faith, but we need to be ready, equipped and able to given a solid answer, a good defence. Absolutely we can use others’ stuff, but never blindly.
God is huge. Faith is complicated. Neither can be reduced to catchy soundbites. Videos and blog posts can only ever be the start of a discussion, and if we aren’t ready to follow through then my advice – and I may be wrong – not to share them at all.
Am I crazy?