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We Must Take Sides

By Voltaire, Translated by Joseph McCabe

Critique by Punkerslut

Image from Radical Graphics
Image: From "Religion" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: June 30, 2004
Finish Date: June 30, 2004


     In this work by Voltaire, he makes arguments on behalf of the existence of god. The primary argument, or perhaps the sole argument accompanied by thoughtfulness, was that of an unmoved mover, or a first dominoe in a line of dominoes. While this argument is often utilized by Christian theologians, Voltaire was neither Christian, nor did he seem to express any thoughts on the existence of an afterlife. It is in this critique that I shall tackle this unmoved mover argument, one utilized by countless theologians and defenders of Theism.

An Unmoved Mover, An Initial Force -- Arguments Considered

I am encouraged in this belief that there can be but one principle, one single mover, when I observe the constant and uniform laws of the whole of nature. ["We Must Take Sides," by Voltaire, translated by Joseph McCabe. Quoted from "A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays," Prometheus Books, 1994, page 9.]


Every present event is born of the past, and is father of the future; otherwise the universe would be quite other than it is, as Leibnitz has well said, more correct in this than in his pre-established harmony. The eternal chain can be neither broken nor entangled. The great being who necessarily sustains it cannot let it hang uncertainly, nor change it; for he would then no longer be the necessary and immutable being, the being of beings; he would be frail, inconstant, capricious; he would belie his nature, and exist no longer. ["We Must Take Sides," by Voltaire, translated by Joseph McCabe. Quoted from "A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays," Prometheus Books, 1994, page 25.]

     When we read and reread these arguments on behalf of the unmoved mover theory, I must agree that the mechanics of the universe can be characterized as the present born of the past, and father of the future. It is much like a line of dominoes, that the second one to fall, falls because of the first, and is the cause of why the third one falls. Though this may seem like an oversimplified model, it is effectual when trying to draw an easily understood analogy of the mechanics of the universe. Also, it seems like this argument can be simplified into a few statements and a conclusion. Such a simplified proof would read as follows...

(1) All actions that occur in the universe are caused by previous actions in the universe.
(2) These actions were initially caused by an unmoved mover.

     By examining these two statements of the proof, we immediately are confronted with a dilemma. If, in fact, all actions in the universe are caused by previous actions in the universe, then the second statement of the proof is -- by default -- incorrect. If it is true that there is an unmoved mover, a god, a first cause, then, quite simply put, it is untrue that all actions are caused by previous actions; it must be untrue, because the actions of god were not caused by previous actions. On the other hand, if it is true that all actions in the universe are caused by previous actions, then the second statement must be untrue, because god would be acting without previous actions moving him. This proof then, is inadequate when it comes to our standards for judging logic. However, let's rearrange the proof to see if it doesn't contradict itself. What if the first statement was, "All actions that occur in the universe are caused by previous actions in the universe, except with the unmoved mover." Well, if that was the first statement, then there would be no need for the second. If that really was the first statement, it would simply be a condensed version of the entire thing. Furthermore, it is incorrect, because when we are using proofs to prove our own theory, we must operate on evidence that we already know. The idea that god is exempt from the rules of physics is, on the contrary, not something that we already know. For example, if someone tried to prove that cows had gills to breath underwater, they could not start with a statement like, "There are slits on the sides of their abdomen that connect to organs that filter oxygen out of water." Such a statement, to date, has not been proven, and therefore cannot be used as a precept to proving an even larger assertion -- in this case, the assertion that cows can breath underwater. In like scenario, one cannot use god as a precept to prove another statement, about god, since that is the matter of debate.

     Assuming for the sake of the matter that the argument is logical and thorough, what value does it give us? Okay, so the existence of god is ascertained. But, what kind of god is this? According to this proof, there is no evidence that this god is conscious, that he is animate after that first action, or that he portrays any of the attributes of the traditional god. In fact, that proof may make a third, very accurate statement, "(3) This unmoved mover is, most likely, an explosion of combined matter and anti-matter." So, by this proof, god is simply redefined as "an explosion of combined matter and anti-matter." What good does this do for religionists? It does no good at all. It did not prove that god is conscious, that he is animate, that he is anything but a natural occurence.

     Perhaps I am misinterpreting the argument of Voltaire slightly. It might be that he argues that god is the one who upholds the laws of logic, that dictates how matter will react to force or stimulus. Perhaps god is not the first unmoved mover, but rather, he is the being that makes sure that all matter follows through properly with the mechanics of the universe. If it is true that this is the argument that Voltaire truly implied (as it seems that this was also Leibnitz argument), then it would be simplified as follows...

(1) All activity in the universe requires that there is something to uphold the law of the transactions of heat, energy, and motion.
(2) The laws that govern this activity is upheld by a universal lawgiver.

     Even with this argument, the same faults are obvious. If, in fact, all motions that follow the rules of matter have to be upheld by a lawgiver, then who was the lawgiver when god was creating the universe? Effectually, this argument is just as flawed as the first. And, perhaps, there can be added a third statement to this proof. "(3) The universal lawgiver is most likely an inanimate, unconscious thing, one we call 'logic.'" Then, again, it is useless to the religionist as much as it is to the philosopher and theologian. Essentially, I am quite curious how Voltaire, a staunch and valiant defender of the liberty of mind as much as the liberty of body, and a philosopher of reason, could come to these conclusions. At least, to Voltaire's credit, he did not accept Christianity, but found himself in an endless battle against the Vatican and Catholicism.


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