Tag Archive | "William Lane Craig"

The Eternal Universe


Let’s get back to basics. The following is a case against a cosmological argument for the existence of God.

Intelligent (not “folk”) Christians will repeatedly tell you that faith and reason are both used in their theologies. Unlike the laity and the unwashed masses, they don’t rely completely on faith, or belief without evidence. Indeed, the Christian religion in its many forms has a long history of logical attempts, from Aquinas to Calvin, at trying to prove the existence of God and the plausibility of their doctrines. This is perhaps due to the fact that certain intellectuals in each tradition simply cannot reconcile their rationality with their religion’s doctrines.

Through tireless philosophical refinement of initially primitive and unimpressive doctrines such as the Genesis myth, we get sophisticated logical arguments such as Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways. Seeing these attempts at logical proof, though, I am personally baffled by the intelligent theist’s recourse to faith. If God is provable through reason, of what use is faith? If faith is sufficient, why use imperfect human reason?

Philosophical arguments for God take various forms, such as the cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments. There are, of course, many criticisms against most, if not all, of these. The cosmological (first cause) and teleological (purposeful design) arguments are empirical arguments, taking the world as it is and reasoning that there must have been a Creator.

One of the most interesting of these arguments, for me, is the Kalam cosmological argument. Unlike most arguments for God, it intends to at least be scientific in its attempt at proving that a personal God exists. Through its most vocal proponent, theologian William Lane Craig, the Kalam is used to argue that the universe must have had a cause. Formally stated, the Kalam appears as such:

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
(2) The universe began to exist.
(3) The universe has a cause.

 

Everything that begins to exist has a cause

Premise (1) asserts that everything that begins to exist has a cause. This statement evades criticisms such as those that Bertrand Russell put forward against Aquinas such as, “Who made God?” Since the Kalam argument states that everything that begins to exist has a cause, God, who is eternal and never began to exist, does not have a cause.

Physicists such as Victor Stenger have argued that not everything that begins to exist has a cause. When an electron increases in energy to an excited state and returns to its ground state, a photon appears. This appearance of the photon occurs spontaneously and is not a deterministic consequence. That is to say, in Stenger’s words, it is “without cause.” The same is true for the radioactive decay of the atomic nucleus. We can know the probability of decay but it is impossible to say exactly when the decay will occur.

 

Atomic nucleus decaying an alpha particle (helium nucleus)

William Lane Craig readily counters this by saying that that is not true causeless existence since nature, which God presumably made, is necessary for such events. However, Craig must now accept that probabilistic causes, if they are “causes” at all, are possible mechanisms for the beginning of the universe. This severely weakens the notion that a personal God predetermined the moment of creation with a purpose.

However, even accepting Premise (1) as true, we can move forward and still see that the Kalam argument ultimately fails in its misuse of time.

 

The universe began to exist

The discovery of the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe was very popular among theists. The Big Bang, they suggest, is proof positive that the universe began to exist. When Georges Lemaître first proposed the model, Pope Pius XII saw this as scientific evidence for creation, “it seems that science of today, by going back in one leap millions of centuries, has succeeded in being witness to that primordial Fiat Lux when, out of nothing, there burst forth with matter a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and reunited in millions of galaxies.”

 

Timeline of the universe

Theologians and apologists such as Craig and Dinesh D’Souza find that since the universe as we know it began 13.7 billion years ago in the Big Bang, then the universe began to exist and it had a cause for its existence. Craig, in the Islamic tradition of the Kalam, suggests that since the universe began to exist 13.7 billion years ago, then there must have been a “particularizer” to decide to begin the universe at that moment and not a moment before. And since this particularizer has the capability to decide and distinguish between moments, then this must be a personal kind of God with a mind analogous to ours (therefore not the deist’s God).

Remember, though, that Craig can no longer require this decision to create the universe to be particularized by a personal God since he must allow that probabilistic causes are possible causes for the universe. The mechanical circumstances necessary for atomic decay are all already in place, even though the effect of a decayed nucleus is delayed. The nucleus could decay in 2 seconds, it could decay in 100 billion years. This defeats the necessity of a personal God deciding to create the universe 13.7 billion years ago and not 12 or 20.

As James Still has seen, Craig’s view of time results in severe problems for the Kalam. It seems that in his view, time exists not in the physicists’ definition of time. Physicists use time in the relational view, where time exists relative to bodies in motion, like ticking clocks. This is integral to Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, where the experience of time changes depending on velocity and the presence of mass. This effect has been confirmed and global positioning systems would fail without the corrections predicted by relativity. More importantly, general relativity shows that, if the universe did begin to exist, time itself began along with space, energy, and matter.

It makes no sense in the relational view of time to suggest that the universe could have had begun a moment before since there were no moments “before” the Big Bang, which is when time started ticking. Therefore, Craig seems to see time as absolute in his metaphysics. Personally, his view makes no sense to me. Perhaps he believes that events can be absolutely simultaneous regardless of frame of reference, which goes against special relativity. At the very least, we know that Craig clearly does not mean “time” in the way it is used by scientists.

It has been suggested that it is possible that the universe has simply always existed—a “brute fact,” in Russell’s words. This would remove any need for a creator since the universe did not “begin to exist.” However, Craig counters this by supporting Premise (2) with the following argument:

(4) An actual infinite cannot exist.
(5) An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
(6) Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.

Through this argument, Craig contends that it is impossible for the universe to have always existed since this would require an infinite temporal regress of events. Craig uses the example of Hilbert’s Grand Hotel to show that an actually real infinite would lead to absurdities.

Briefly, David Hilbert’s paradox of the grand hotel shows that if you have a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, it can accommodate an infinite number of guests. It should then be full after checking in an infinite number of guests. But, if another infinite number of guests should wish to stay in the hotel, one would only need to move the first set of guests to odd numbered rooms and the second group into even numbered rooms. You have now accommodated another infinite number of people in a supposedly full hotel. Craig argues that since this is a counter-intuitive result, then an actual infinite must be impossible.

It is important to note, however, that counter-intuitive results show up in science all the time. The greatest example of this is the discovery of wave-particle duality. A particle can be at many places at the same time. A particle can have many states at the same time. It is therefore not true that counter-intuitive results are necessarily impossible. However, we need not reject Craig’s use of Hilbert’s Hotel to see that Premise (2) in the Kalam is problematic.

Contrary to how Craig views the Big Bang model, the standard model of cosmology does not necessarily see the universe as beginning from a single infinitely dense point—a singularity. This prediction that the universe began as a singularity, via the Penrose-Hawking theorems, was because the Big Bang was erroneously viewed purely through the lens of General Relativity. Both Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking would later revise their position. Taking into account the physics of quantum mechanics, which would dominate at the extremely small scales of the earliest moments of the Big Bang, Hawking says, “There was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe.”

 

Imaginary time can be described as time as if it were like a dimension of space.

It is completely possible, as Hawking suggests in A Brief History of Time, that the universe has no boundary in time. This means that t = 0 (where t = time) is merely in the middle of a continuous line of imaginary time (a concept necessary to describe quantum tunneling), like how the South Pole is not the end of the Earth, but just another point along the longitudes. Trace the longitude going through the poles of the Earth and you get a finite but unbounded geometry—a great circle; the same could be true for four dimensional space-time. It therefore stands to reason that time need not have a beginning, as a singularity would suggest.

In quantum tunneling, a particle can break through a potential energy barrier even if it has less than the energy necessary to overcome the barrier. The very much real physics of the particle when inside the barrier can be described using complex, or imaginary, time.

 

In any case, singularity or no singularity, the scientific relational view of time avoids the problem of an infinite addition of events leading up to today because, although the age of the universe is finite, it is also true that the universe is eternal and has always existed. There has never been a time when there was no universe.

 

The universe has a cause

Craig asserts through an absolute view of time that actual infinities cannot exist. This would also apply to God. God cannot have existed through an actual infinite addition of events going back to nowhere. To get around this, theologians can assert that God is eternal not in the infinite number of events sense but because he is timeless. Unfortunately for the theist, since God is timeless, there would also never have been a time when God did not create the universe. The eternal universe would also be timeless in the same sense.

If Craig is to retain his absolute view of time, he must also reject the impossible timelessness of God. God must have begun to exist and himself have a cause. We can repeat Bertrand Russell’s challenge, “Who made God?” If Craig is to accept the physicists’ relational view of time, he must also accept that the universe is “eternal” in the same sense that God is eternal. Premise (2) fails and God is then an unnecessary explanation for the universe’s existence.

As Paul Draper notes, another problem with the Kalam cosmological argument is that it equivocates two senses of the phrase “begin to exist.” The strength of the Kalam cosmological argument is that it purports to be a proof of God from the evidence. It uses inductive reasoning to show that since everything begins to exist from causes, then the universe must also have begun to exist from a cause. However, the things we see to begin to exist begin in time. The universe, if it began to exist, began with time 13.7 billion years ago. We have no experience, no valid intuition, of things, let alone universes, beginning with time. Craig therefore commits the fallacy of equivocation in reasoning from the example of ordinary objects that the universe must also have a cause. Even if we accept Premises (1) and (2), the conclusion of the Kalam cosmological argument remains invalid. The eternal universe remains a brute fact.

 

TL;DR

The Kalam cosmological argument was a very strong case for the existence of not just a supernatural creator, but a personal one with a mind and thoughts. Because of the supposed impossibility of infinities in the real world, there is indeed a real problem for the naturalistic existence of the universe.

All of these arguments, however, have been fatally challenged by what we know today about the universe. The necessity of a personal creator is refuted by the existence of natural mechanisms for probabilistic causes. This means that naturalistic causes need not have their effects occur immediately after. The eternity of the universe is also supported by the dependence of time on space. In other words, without the universe, there was no time. Without time outside the universe, there was never a time without a universe. Hence, the universe has always existed and a creator is unnecessary to explain its existence.

It was perhaps impossible to have been an intellectually satisfied atheist until the discovery of relativity and quantum mechanics. The refutation of the Kalam heavily depends on the evidence that supports these theories. This did not have to be how nature is. As we learn more about the peculiarities of the universe, the God-shaped hole at the end of the universe is all but plugged.

 

All images are public domain except image on quantum tunneling by Jean-Christoph Benoist. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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Why Dawkins should not debate with Craig


Richard Dawkins was accused of cowardice when he repeatedly refused to debate the existence of God with the famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig. And while he tried to shrug off such invitations by saying he is too busy to “take on people whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters,” I think Dawkins has a good reason to be afraid. Craig will eat Dawkins alive – that is, if the debate has more or less the same structure as the ones in which Craig had previously engaged with other atheists.

In a timed debate where each participant is awarded a point for every argument and counter-argument, Craig will surely win because he can state several arguments for the existence of God within a relatively short time. Now whether these arguments would crumble under critical scrutiny is beside the point; there is simply not enough time for Dawkins to effectively rebut each of these arguments especially with his slow British accent.

But if Dawkins will change his mind and decide to accept Craig’s challenge, I think the debate should be focused on only one of the arguments for God’s existence, say, the cosmological argument or the teleological argument, so that Dawkins could whittle it down and expose the fallacies. More importantly, Dawkins should insist that key terms like ‘evidence’ be clearly defined before agreeing to go into such debate. This was the mistake of Lawrence Krauss in the debate Is there evidence for God? In his opening statement (which was after Craig’s), Krauss said, “Dr. Craig came here to talk about evidence, which is, I take to be, empirical and scientific.” Too late. Craig had already defined ‘evidence’ in such a way that there is evidence for hypothesis H if:

Pr (H | E & B) > Pr (H | B)

Pr = probability; H = a hypothesis; E = some specific evidence; B = our background information

Craig explained:

“At one level it seems to me indisputable that there is evidence for God. To say that there is evidence for some hypothesis is just to say that that hypothesis is more probable given certain facts than would have been without them. It is to say there is evidence to some hypothesis H if the probability of H is greater on the evidence and background information than on the background information alone.”

And Craig argued that there is evidence for God if:

Pr (G | E & B) > Pr (G | B)

Pr = probability; G = God exists; E = some specific evidence; B = our background information

Craig continued:

“It seems to me indisputable that God’s existence is more probable given certain facts like the origin of the universe, the complex order of the universe, the existence of objective moral values and so forth, than it would have been without them.”

While it is clear that Craig’s definition of ‘evidence’ is that of circumstantial evidence and not direct evidence, the debate is simply titled “Is there evidence for God?” and therefore Craig’s victory is inevitable.

Craig is a seasoned debater, and his years of experience have taught him not only to identify the red herrings in his opponents’ arguments but also to get away with a few dishonest tricks of his own. A good example is his debate with Sam Harris, Is Good from God? In his opening speech, Craig flashed a slide with his own version of the title: “Is the Foundation of our Morality Natural or Supernatural?” While he stuck to the issue up to this point, what he did next was nothing short of sleight of hand. Craig said:

“The question before us this evening, then, is, ‘what is the best foundation for the existence of objective moral values and duties? What grounds them? What makes certain actions objectively good or evil, right or wrong?’ In tonight’s debate I’m going to defend two basic contentions:

1. If God exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.

2. If God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.

Now notice that these are conditional claims. I shall not be arguing tonight that God exists. Maybe Dr. Harris is right that atheism is true. That wouldn’t affect the truth of my two contentions. All that would follow is that objective moral values and duties would, then, contrary to Dr. Harris, not exist.”

Take note that Craig’s contentions have nothing to do with the debate’s title, Is Good from God? or even with his own subtitle, Is the Foundation of our Morality Natural or Supernatural? Both titles are questions answerable by yes or no, not with conditional claims.

Then after Harris mentioned the problem of evil and the problem of the unevangelized, Craig rebutted with:

“Both of these, as I explained in my opening, are irrelevant in tonight’s debate because I’m not arguing that God exists. Maybe he’s right; maybe these are insuperable objections to Christianity or to theism. It wouldn’t affect either of my contentions: that if God exists, then we have a sound foundation for moral values and duties; if God does not exist, then we have no foundation for objective moral values and duties. So these are red herrings.”

But while he may sound righteously indignant about Harris’ red herrings, the problem with Craig’s contentions is that they are red herrings themselves. The debate’s title question, Is Good from God? can only be answered in the affirmative if God’s existence has been proven in the first place, and yet Craig insists that God’s existence is irrelevant to the debate.

Unfortunately, Harris did not seem to notice this (or if he did he didn’t seem to care enough to point it out), and it’s only after carefully reviewing Craig’s arguments that we can see through his deception.

Now would Dawkins fare better? I doubt it. And when he said that such a debate would look good on Craig’s CV but not on his own, I don’t think it’s because Dawkins finds Craig unworthy of his attention. I think it’s because Dawkins knows he would lose.

 

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The closest thing to objective moral values


[Continued from Do objective moral values exist?]

The Christian apologist William Lane Craig says that certain actions like rape and torture are not just socially unacceptable behavior but moral abominations. He also argues that the Holocaust would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them. And I agree with him on both counts. However, the term “moral abomination” does not necessarily mean objectively wrong since we have no way of finding out if our list of moral abominations would still be the same had we evolved in a different way, and I would also argue that we’re only able to make such judgment on the Holocaust precisely because we haven’t been exterminated or brainwashed by the Nazis and, more importantly, because evolution has “taught” us that genocide is not a very good way of perpetuating our species. The moral values that evolution has conditioned into our minds may not be objective since they cannot exist independently of our minds, but they are definitely more than just moral fads.

Not surprisingly, Craig expresses skepticism with evolution-based morality:

[T]here’s no good evidence that our perception of moral and aesthetic values has been programmed by evolution. Darwinists are extremely imaginative and creative in coming up with what are called “just so” stories in order to explain things via evolution for which there is no empirical evidence. Indeed, these stories are almost endlessly adaptable, so that they become almost irrefutable and, hence, unfalsifiable.

I admit that Craig has a good point, and I admire his skepticism. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to apply the same skepticism when it comes to the existence of objective moral values:

Why should I think that objective moral values exist rather than that evolution has made me believe in the illusion that there are objective moral values? Because I clearly apprehend objective moral values and have no good reason to deny what I clearly perceive.

This is the same answer we give to the sceptic who says, “How do you know you’re not just a body lying in the Matrix and that all that you see and experience is an illusory, virtual reality?” We have no way to get outside our five senses and prove that they’re veridical. Rather I clearly apprehend a world of people and trees and houses about me, and I have no good reason to doubt what I clearly perceive. Sure, it’s possible that I’m a body in the Matrix. But possibilities come cheap. The mere possibility provides no warrant for denying what I clearly grasp.

I think the key difference between moral values and the physical world lies not in the perception but in the applicability. The physical world applies to everyone and everything regardless of their sense capabilities and even whether they are sentient or not. For example, a blind zebra and a deaf bat will both hit a tree standing in their paths, and even the unconscious wind will have to blow around that tree. Lack of perception does not exempt anyone or anything from the reality of the physical world.

Moral values, however, apply only to the acts of those who are able to perceive moral values in the first place. Non-human animals do not commit murder when they kill other sentient beings, and even young children and mentally disabled adults are often excused from certain moral duties. It is only the mentally-fit humans who can perceive moral values, and it is only the mentally-fit humans to whom these values apply, making moral values doubly dependent on perception. How then, can we call such values objective with the same confidence that we say that the physical world is objective?

Now without objective moral values, what are we left with? It seems that no matter how we try to get some purchase for our morality, there is an is-ought gap we just can’t quite cross. Just what is it in life, or the flourishing of life, that makes us ought to act in certain ways?

Others are more qualified to answer that, so I’ll just try to approach it from the semantics angle, particularly with the word objective again, which happens to have another definition: undistorted by emotion or personal bias. In this context, objective moral values could mean something like the kind of morality Richard Dawkins says he wants: “thought-out, reasoned, argued, discussed, and based upon – you could almost say – intelligent design.” And I believe we have what is arguably the closest thing to objective moral values, and that is the objective reasoning of an evolved brain.

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Do objective moral values exist?


“If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist,” says an apologist. This will soon be followed by the contention that objective moral values do exist, leading to the inevitable conclusion that, well, God exists.

From my discussions with the resident theists in the FF Forum, I have come to understand moral values as the rightness/wrongness of certain human actions, while Collins English Dictionary defines objective as “existing independently of perception or an individual’s conceptions.”

The famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig defines it even more narrowly:

To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.

I think the fallacy of Craig’s argument lies in his use of the word objective. Craig says that objective moral values exist whether anyone believes them or not, and by anyone, that should include God, otherwise it would be special pleading. However, moral values themselves do not exist inherently with human actions; moral values exist only when someone judges the actions and establishes moral values on them. If moral values are established by God, they are only objective as far as man is concerned but they are actually subjective from the point of view of God.

And that’s why I don’t think it’s right to call the moral values allegedly established by God as objective moral values since they cannot exist independently of God’s perception or judgment. They should be called divine moral values instead, but I think I know why Craig would refuse to call them as such. That’s because his moral argument would turn into something like this:

1. If God does not exist, divine moral values do not exist

2. Divine moral values exist

3. Therefore, God exists

But the problem with the new Premise 2 is that it’s easier to refute than the original “objective moral values exist” because skeptics would then demand a list of moral values unmistakably coming from God, and I’m sure the Bible would fail miserably. (As for the existence of objective moral values, however, Craig doesn’t seem to offer much support apart from saying that the Holocaust would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and that we intuitively perceive certain acts like rape and torture to be wrong, but instead challenged skeptics that they could not prove that physical reality exists either and that even as one could only rely on his own sense perception to perceive reality, no one in his right mind would deny that objective reality exists, so it should follow that no one in his right mind would also deny that objective moral values exist even if he only had his own moral perception to rely on.)

I posted this objection on the FF Forum along with the Euthyphro dilemma (does God command something because it’s good or is something good because God commands it?) and got very interesting answers from our resident theists who call themselves Miguel and XIII. What they are practically saying is that God does not command the good nor likes the good but that God is the good, and being good, he cannot command something that is not good. I took the liberty of refining their argument to make it more relevant to objective moral values (Miguel and XIII, if you think I did not give justice to your views you may rebuke me at the comments section):

1. Objective moral values are moral values that exist whether anyone – including God – perceives them or not.

2. God is inherently good, so he cannot perceive something evil as good and vice-versa.

3. So even if moral values are directly dependent on God’s perception, such perception is not subjective because it is anchored on God’s goodness, which cannot be separated from him, and therefore the moral values established by God are ultimately grounded on his objective goodness.

While the conclusion seems logical, I’m going to try to refute Premise 2, that God cannot perceive something evil as good. In the Old Testament, God established extremely negative moral values on homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, and losing one’s virginity before marriage – and positive moral values on killing homosexualsSabbath workers and non-virgin brides. And in both the Old and New Testaments, God/Jesus never established a negative moral value on slavery but actually condoned it. So in order to honestly say that “God is the good,” one would have to agree with the above moral values established by God.

Otherwise, the moral argument will be gored by the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma (something is good because God commands it, making the good arbitrary), refuting the premise that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist, because objective moral values are supposed to exist even if everyone – including God – does not agree with them. And that’s why I believe that not only do objective moral values not exist but the term “objective moral values” itself is an oxymoron, because moral values will always be subjective to the mind (whether man’s or God’s) that perceives them.

[Continued on The closest thing to objective moral values]

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