Memebuster #2: Eric the God-eating Penguin

One of the things I have meant to do on this blog (aside from writing regularly, which never seems to happen despite my best intentions) is to round up popular atheist memes and see how they fare when given a close inspection. I did this once already with the hilariously bad Sinai Bible meme, which remains my most popular article, so when I came across this atheist penguin meme that made me hoot with laughter, I knew I needed to have a crack at this one as well.

Who wouldn't love a penguin named Eric?
When I say I hooted with laughter, I mean it. Despite the fact the objection housed within the Eric the God-eating Penguin meme is actually weak and is easily demonstrated as false, I could see the humorous side of both the penguin element and the attempt to parody the structure of the Ontological Argument for God's existence.

At the same time this meme is wildly popular on Twitter, with many people sharing it like it's a good argument against the existence of God. But is it really? Let's take closer look.


To summarise the God-eating Penguin objection, if Eric exists, he eats God and renders God non-existent. If it's possible to prove that Eric doesn't exist, then the same proof will render God non-existent. The structure of the argument is to force a dilemma in which both branches end with God not existing. The author's first challenge is to prove that Eric doesn't exist.

Challenge accepted.

Eric is Logically Impossible

There are certain types of things that can never exist. Not only do they not exist in this particular universe, but they could not exist in any possible universe. Their existence is completely impossible, because they violate logic. Such things include contradictions-in-terms, for example married bachelors or square circles  - in fact I hesitate to call them things, because in reality these are just meaningless phrases, a conglomeration of contradictory words that don't refer to anything that can actually exist.

Sadly for Eric, God-eating penguins also end up falling into this category of logically impossible things that cannot exist. How so? The key is in understanding what we mean when we talk of God.

One of the persistent weaknesses in internet-warrior atheistic critiques of the idea of God is that they generally attack their own "straw man in the sky" caricature of God and fail to engage with the philosophically robust hypothesis that informed Christians offer. If God is just an unembodied sky-man, then sure, there's nothing about Eric that violates logic. But that's not what Christians mean when we talk about God.

Drawing from the Cosmological arguments, Christians posit God as the "uncaused first cause", the thing that everything else derives its existence from. If we follow the chain of cause and effect backwards through time and space, then to avoid an infinite regress of causes, we must arrive at a first, primary cause. This first cause exists independently of other things, and therefore the effects that it produces (everything contained within the universe) exist secondarily, in a dependent way. 

Philosophers call this "contingent" existence. Everything within the universe - every person, every tree, every atom and molecule of every physical element, exists contingently. They don't logically HAVE to exist, it's quite possible there could be a universe without me, or without you. You exist because you were caused to exist by factors and agents external to yourself. 

But the very first existent thing must be uncaused, otherwise we end up in a nonsensical infinite regress of causes. So the first cause is not contingent, depending on outside factors to exist, but rather it exists necessarily, in and of itself. It exists with logical necessity. It MUST exist. 

And that's where Eric the God-eating Penguin smashes beak-first into the impenetrable wall of logical impossibility. 

If God, the uncaused first cause, exists, then he has necessary existence. He cannot stop existing because it is logically impossible for him to do so. And therefore a penguin that causes a necessarily-existent being to stop existing violates logic in the same way that a married bachelor does, or a square circle. Such a creature is a contradiction-in-terms, entailing a logical impossibility - and therefore cannot exist in any possible universe.

And if he doesn't exist, then of course, he can't eat God anyway. 

God is Logically Possible

The author goes on to make a second claim which also needs examination, saying:
  
"... and even if you can prove that Eric doesn't exist, that same proof will also be applicable to God."
  
I have shown that Eric is not able to exist because he is logically impossible, but it is unclear why the author presumes that this evidence also disproves the idea that God exists. There is no sense in which the concept of God entails a logical impossibility in the same way that Eric does. 

If there was a logical flaw in the concept of God, this would be how serious academic-level atheists would refute the Ontological Argument. It would be the silver bullet that would end the God hypothesis once and for all. But it does not exist, because God is logically possible.

This premise in the argument is false, because the proof that shows that Eric does not exist fails to concurrently show that God does not exist.

 Eric is Practically Impossible

There is another sense in which this scenario is impossible. Eric is a penguin, and just as the word God evokes certain properties or qualities, so the word penguin has a specific and limited use. Penguins are animals, creatures who live in the physical realm. Any non-physical penguin would not actually be a penguin - it would be entirely something else.

Similarly, eating is a physical act, the process of one physical organism materially consuming another. Everything that can be "eaten" is made of atoms and molecules arranged in the three dimensions of space.

This creates a practical problem for Eric, because if it was somehow logically possible for him to exist, there's no way he could actually eat God. When we say God, we are not referring to a physical object that can be eaten by a physical creature. God is spirit, he is an immaterial mind that is causally active in all locations in space, but not present physically at any finite location. 

Practically speaking, it is impossible for physical Eric to physically eat an immaterial God.

Claiming that Eric is God-eating "by definition" will not get us there, because this definition causes both a logical and a practical impossibility. When Christian philosophers and apologists defend the concept of God by appealing to his defining qualities, they aren't causing logical or practical impossibilities, so it's not the same thing. If you want to argue this point, feel free, but please provide specific examples.

The Dilemma

Eric's creator would like us to believe that the two horns of his dilemma lead inescapably to the conclusion that God does not exist. But on closer inspection, using logic correctly, we find this to be untrue. Eric proves to be logically impossible, and the premise that any disproof of Eric will also disprove God turns out to be false. This is a twice dead objection.

Nothing I've said here proves that God exists - all I've done is disproven the existence of Eric and dismantled the objection that he can prevent God from existing. But for those who believe that there is no positive evidence for the existence God, I invite you to read some of the articles on my website and on the sites I link to. The open-minded reader will find plenty to consider.

Sorry Eric. I do like penguins, just not logically impossible ones.


Agree? Disagree? Please comment below, or feel free to direct any queries, responses or criticisms to my Twitter page, where they will be gratefully received. You can find me at https://twitter.com/WarrantedFaith
Memebuster #2: Eric the God-eating Penguin Memebuster #2: Eric the God-eating Penguin Reviewed by Nathan on 12:50 AM Rating: 5

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