Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, is just plain riotous. Really. You have to give it to the man; no one else knows quite how to pile up logical fallacies in such a way as to provide the textbook example of what not to do when it comes to matters of philosophical speculation. Following is my evisceration of some his greatest gaffes from “The Big Book” (as opposed to “The Good Book,” i.e. the Bible), after which I’ll address his inane drivel from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.
“The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons whirling around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world. Science tells us so. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn’t so.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 49)
I don’t need to draw upon a “perverse streak” in order to point out the fatal flaw in Bill Wilson’s argument; I need only perform a reality check against his perverse reasoning. Here, Mr. Wilson has invoked the Natural Law Argument, which mistakenly conflates descriptive laws with prescriptive laws. Prescriptive laws are the type that human beings prescribe for the sake of social order. They can be obeyed, or they can be broken. Natural laws, on the other hand, are merely descriptions by human beings of invariable patterns observed in the natural world. As such, the word “law” here is not intended to convey an intelligent agent or “law giver.” This is a prime example of the fallacy of equivocation, in which one plays up the wrong meaning of a word that has multiple meanings.
Granted there are powerful forces at work in nature, it is fallacious to ascribe intelligence to them. Another precise law that holds true throughout the material world is the law of conservation of angular momentum. We know this to be the case, because it plays a vital role in the formation of galaxies strewn throughout the universe. It also plays a vital role in the formation of hurricanes, which leave untold death and destruction in their wake. If you wish to see a guiding intelligence behind this, you’re the pervert.
“We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 49)
The irony is delicious, as this chapter of Bill Wilson’s work represents nothing if not a wordy book that indulges in windy arguments.
“Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 49)
Let’s start with the claim that, without God, “life originated out of nothing.” In fact, I’ll do him one better. Per the Cosmological Argument, it is said that, without God, the Universe itself would have to have originated from nothing. Funny thing is… it kinda did. But, we’ll get to that in a moment.
The logical fallacy inherent in this argument is that of the false dilemma. Bill Wilson has illegitimately restricted us to only two options, ignoring any viable alternatives. They are as follows:
- Life/the Universe came from God
- Life/the Universe came from Nothing
Our only choices? Not so fast. Here is the third option that Mr. Wilson has conveniently ignored:
- Life/the Universe came from Something, i.e. Natural Phenomena
Indeed, we have a well-established scientific understanding of our natural origin, one which has no need of the God Hypothesis—evolution via natural selection. If we can account for our existence by means of Nature, why invoke God? Occam’s Razor comes in handy once again, suggesting that we need not multiply entities beyond necessity. Of course, the initial origin of all life at the molecular level—abiogenesis—is not yet fully understood, but this does not justify making an argument from ignorance by merely inserting a god into the gap. That much, history should have taught us by now.
And, please, let’s not continue to entertain any challenges to evolution by appeal to the “Intelligent Design” movement. This circus has had its day in court—literally (see Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District). Its sacred cow, irreducible complexity, has been flatly refuted in every aspect, from bacterial flagella and human eyeballs to blood clotting and the immune system. And yes, Virginia, transitional fossils do exist (see http://darwiniana.org/hominid.htm). Case closed.
That brings us to the Universe. Admittedly, it is finite. It has not always existed. The whole kit and kaboodle was birthed about 13.7 billion years ago in a fiery cauldron of cataclysmic chaos. So, where did it come from? Well, according to physicists… nothing. But, not exactly.
When physicists refer to the Big Bang as the emergence of the Universe from “nothing,” they are being rather misleading. They know full well that the nothingness of which they speak is not a state of absolute nothingness, but a quantum vacuum. To quote Christian philosopher William Lane Craig (for the sake of irony), “the vacuum is not nothing, but is a sea of fluctuating energy endowed with a rich structure and subject to physical laws.” Ergo, the Universe was indeed spawned from something, the quantum field—arguably the substratum of all existence. Where did it come from, you might ask? Well, why would it need to have come from anywhere? It has probably always been. As physicist Victor Stenger put it, “If God did not have to come from something, because she had no beginning, then neither did physics.” Therein lies your First Cause, i.e. the Uncaused Cause or Prime Mover: an indispensable, high-energy-yielding void. Go ahead and pray to it for some cake. Or a Transformers lunchbox. Or a cure to your addiction. Or for quick relief from your flaring case of genital herpes. (Hint: it doesn’t give a fuck.)
That brings us next to the assertion that, without God, life “means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.” This is really just a pathetic appeal to emotion, and one that is way off track, anyway. I highly recommend Dr. Robert M. Price’s The Reason Driven Life on this point—the antithesis, by the way, to Reverend Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. Meaning need not be handed down “From on High.” If Meaning can be diluted to merely a one-size-fits-all garment from God, then it is “derivative and secondhand” as Price puts it—not to mention, an affront to individualism, completely devoid of the beauty that springs from diversity and personal choice. Rather than speak of the meaning of life, we should speak of your meaning of life. Meaning is in the Eye of the Beholder—the core of existentialist philosophy. We determine our own meaning. We make of life what we will. It is truly as simple as that.
“How he does cherish the thought that man, risen so majestically from a single cell in the primordial ooze, is the spearhead of evolution and therefore the only god that his universe knows!” (The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 25)
Way to go, schlep, seeing as how I haven’t met a single atheist who proposes this kind of nonsense. This is a classic example of the strawman fallacy, in which the author must misrepresent his opponent’s position in order to more easily refute it. Fact of the matter is, we live on the outskirts of a galaxy consisting of a few hundred billion stars. And, strewn throughout the vast expanse of the cosmos, there exists something like a hundred billion galaxies–each practically its own universe, in and of itself. If you do the math, taking into account the law of averages of large numbers, you end up with literally millions of civilizations–even if life is rare! To think ourselves the most advanced form of life in this 14 billion year old universe is fucking preposterous. Bill W. was apparently so poorly read up on astronomy that even the Catholic Church would take issue during the time of Galileo.