The All-or-Nothing Criterion

GUWG-All-or-NothingOf all the objections I’ve heard to the Kalam Cosmologial Argument, one of the most interesting is, surprisingly, that given by Richard Dawkins.

Even if we allow the luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress, and giving it a name, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of human attributes such as listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading innermost thoughts. (Dawkins, The God Delusion)

Usually, I don’t think it fruitful to interact with Dawkins, and I’ll limit my focus here. This is because he’s made, in many ways,  a poor objection. We’ve already seen why the idea of a cause of the universe isn’t at all arbitrary, and many of the attributes ascribed to God would be implied by such a cause. Still, I do think he makes a significant point: that quite a bit of what one thinks about, when one thinks about God, is not part of the conclusion of this argument.

William Lane Craig, in defending the argument, points out that the argument was never designed to do what Dawkins complains it does not do. He goes on to point out that this is more concession than rebuttal.

It would be a bizarre form of atheism, in fact an atheism not deserving the name, that believes that there in an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, unimaginably powerful, personal creator of the universe who may–for all we know–have all of the properties listed by Dawkins. (Craig)

I find that I agree with Craig that we’ve clearly left the materialistic atheist view promoted by Dawkins, and that Dawkins’ objection is no defense of that view. But these men agree that we haven’t shown the God of any particular religion to be the correct one.

We need to seek a balance here. First, it is true that the Christian cannot simply leap from this to the conclusion to her religion without additional arguments. But, second, this is no reason to dismiss the argument in the way that Dawkins does.

I’ve seen this pattern in many, and it seems to be a strange variation on the Plurium interrogationum fallacy (demanding a simple answer to a difficult question). At least, Dawkins seems to be reasoning that, if an argument can’t conclude to all the attributes of God, but only some, that’s a good reason to stop thinking about the subject.

Rather, unless something can be shown to be wrong with the argument, we’ve moved to a general affirmation of theism. The question has, therefore, changed from “Does God exist?” to “Which God exists?”.

It is also worth mention that, while this doesn’t show a particular religion to be true, it does point to a rather narrow range of concepts. Those who worry that there will be thousands of religions to sift through can rest at ease. The percentage of gods proposed in human history who fit the conclusion of this argument is razor thin.

So, though he fails to defend his atheism, Dawkins has correctly pointed out that we have further to go before arriving at Christianity. But, rather than use that as an excuse to halt inquiry, I think this is a reason to ask ourselves what further conclusions might be reached.

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9 responses to “The All-or-Nothing Criterion

  • myatheistlife

    You speak lovingly of the KCA? Huh?

    I do not agree that we have evidence or reason to think the cause of the universe is not arbitrary… so this does not help any explanation for a god who refuses to show himself otherwise. And this is avoiding the question of definition for ’cause’, ‘begin’, and ‘exist’… When the KCA was first proposed we humans had nothing near the understanding that we do today. The KCA is not suitable as an argument in light of current information.

    WLC hasn’t said anything of substance for most of his career, and I’d be willing to wager that what he said of substance (little as that was) had nothing to do with apologetics.

    You can’t leave the realm of the physical without evidence for doing so or abandonment of reason. Reason is exactly the point of the KCA, to reason the existence of a god.

    It’s not that Dawkins is dismissing it. It has no merit to begin with. You seem to be wanting to re-insert the special pleading that made it fallacious from the start. The very part that WLC took out to build his career on.

    The KCA does not show that a god exists. Not even a little bit. Arguing anything on the basis of the KCA being valid as the premise is failed, from the start.

    I won’t refute the KCA here for brevity as I have already done so on my blog as have many other people on the Internet in general. The KCA fails on the first two premises. Nothing after that matters.

    • Eduardo

      Well coming from the man who confuses the Kalam with the Contingency argument…. yeah you must have refuted XD… not =_=…

    • Debilis

      I’m not sure about “lovingly”. My initial reaction to it was negative. But, in thinking through the matter, I’ve become convinced that, regardless of how unimpressed I was with Craig’s presentation, the premises of the KCA are clearly more reasonable than the alternatives.

      I talk about the “arbitrariness” of the cause of the universe elsewhere. I’ve defended the idea that it is timeless here and that it is immaterial and powerful object here.

      More pertinently, I don’t know of any legitimate reason to show that there is anything arbitrary going on here. Rather, we have to look at what such a cause might realistically be.

      Similarly, I’m not aware of any “current information” which damages the KCA. I’m aware of current conjectures, but nothing that is supported by evidence or would otherwise count as information–and even most of the conjectures don’t tend to counter the idea that the universe has an absolute beginning.

      You can’t leave the realm of the physical without evidence for doing so or abandonment of reason.
      Regardless of whether or not the KCA is a good argument, this is not a valid objection to it.

      First, because the argument is an argument for the immaterial. That is, it purports to be a reason to believe there is more than the material. One can attempt to show that it fails to do this, but it makes to sense to use “you need a reason to believe in more than the material” as your argument against it.

      Second, unless one is willing to accept non-physical evidence, this is a self-contradiction. That is “You can’t leave the realm of the physical without evidence for doing so or abandonment of reason.” is, itself, a metaphysical philosophy. It is actually a restatement of Verificationism.

      And the reason why Verificationism was abandoned in the twentieth century is that it can’t offer any evidence in support of itself.

      But, yes, Dawkins is simply dismissing the argument, and (whether he means to or not) discouraging further inquiry. If the argument is flawed, he gives absolutely no reason to think so. If the argument is so terrible as to not need any more thought than Dawkins gives, it needs to be explained why. But no one has been able to do this.

      Nor do I see how the accusation of special-pleading applies to this argument. I’d be interested in the concept, actually. Would you care to elaborate?

      Arguing anything on the basis of the KCA being valid as the premise is failed, from the start.
      I agree that the argument should be established first (and have already discussed it elsewhere).
      That being the case, which of the premises?
      And, of course, what are your reasons for concluding that this premise is false?

      I won’t refute the KCA here for brevity as I have already done so on my blog as have many other people on the Internet in general. The KCA fails on the first two premises. Nothing after that matters.
      I agree that the argument is no good if the premises are false.
      But I’ve yet to encounter anyone who has been able to give me a good reason why either of them are.

      Okay, I think that is quite long enough.
      Best you you out there.

      • myatheistlife

        There is a good summary of KCA issues at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kal%C4%81m_cosmological_argument
        Craig is the foremost proponent… he makes supposition after supposition without any supporting evidence but further supposition. He never gives thought or credence to any thought that gives as good an explanation as the KCA, dismissing them outright.

        1 – Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
        2 – The universe has a beginning of its existence;

        Define what does not have a beginning with evidence.
        Define beginning of existence.

        Explain why a snowflake or raindrop or water splash does not fit these premises but the universe does.

        If they fit, what reason do we have to think there is an intelligent cause behind their existence? Why would the universe necessarily be different and what reason do we have to believe such?

        As an apologist of sorts, what reason do you have to believe that the universe had a beginning? What is your ‘evidence’ that convinces you? How does it lead you to think the most reasonable thing is to think there was an intelligent cause.

        We already know that there is no good argument to think the cause, if there be one, is the god of Abraham. How is it that you make the leap to this conclusion?
        Why can it not be the Satan who caused such existence?

        The leap beyond [2] is huge, and without evidence for the KCA. To opine about the cause of any existence is pure conjecture without evidence.

        The argument stops here without abandonment of reason. Definition does not help the apologist. Without definition and evidence, the argument applies both to rain drops and universes. To go beyond this requires credible reason… or abandonment of logic/reason.

    • Debilis

      Define what does not have a beginning with evidence.
      Define beginning of existence.

      We don’t define things with evidence. We support things with evidence.
      So, to offer a definition of “beginning”: something has a beginning if there was time such that there is no time before it at which it existed.

      Not having a beginning would be this not being true of a thing.

      Explain why a snowflake or raindrop or water splash does not fit these premises but the universe does.

      If they fit, what reason do we have to think there is an intelligent cause behind their existence?
      This seems very mixed up.
      The argument isn’t that everything that comes into existence has an intelligent cause, but simply that it has a cause.

      Obviously the cause of one thing will have to be different from the cause of another thing. It seems completely strange to insist otherwise.

      But, even more fundamentally, this rebuttal doesn’t address either of the premises of the argument. It doesn’t show that things can come into existence without a cause, nor does it show that the universe is past eternal. As such, it isn’t a reason to reject the statement that the universe has a cause.

      As an apologist of sorts, what reason do you have to believe that the universe had a beginning?
      That is the standard cosmological model, of course. In fact, all of the big contenders in cosmology are past-finite models.

      More than that, I’d say that an infinite string of past events breaks down into logical absurdities. That being the case “the universe had a beginning” and “logical absurdities are true” seem to be the two options on the table.

      We already know that there is no good argument to think the cause, if there be one, is the god of Abraham.
      I’m not sure how we know this.
      Personally, I don’t know this, but I’m not yet to that point. Right now, we’re discussing the KCA.

      So, do you accept the idea that the universe had a cause, or do you feel that it is more likely that it is past eternal–or came into existence without a cause?

      The leap beyond [2] is huge
      I’m not making that leap.
      If I claim that the cause of the universe is the God of Abraham, you can trust that I will have an argument to support that claim.

      Honestly, I have no idea why we are suddenly jumping to the question of “Which particular god?” when we haven’t finished settling the question of “Is there a cause of the universe?”

      That being the case, please let me know your position on that question. Do you take the position that the universe does not have a cause?

      If so, I would need some support for that position (it has not yet been provided).
      If not, I’ll move on to discussing what type of thing we can take the cause of the universe to be.

  • Eduardo

    Let me see your post in your blog start with showing a formulation of Kalam Cosmlogical argument…. what the crap. Craig is not a classical theist and I got tired of seeing him repeating the argument so I know you added stuff that Craig never spoken off.

    Now you take the overall premises and conclusion from wikipedia, but even better is not even in the wikipedia link so it must be in one his books… but I found this very doubtful seeing that you don’t even know exactly what Kalam was, confusing it with Leibniz’s.

    You add a conclusion that is simply not there, which also make it looks like it doesn’t come from the first 3 propositions, but you know, thatis why people write books about these arguments, to show why each premise is true or not and why the conclusion follows.

    You refutation of the first premise… totally shitty, totallly not backed by a simple search of the definition of cause, you just say that the use of cause means intentional cause… nope… wow… not even fucking close of how usually I see people using the word cause.

    Wow no, I can’t keep reading this XD ahahahahhaa, I mean, olly me and my masoquist desire of reading crap on the net… I be cursed XD.

  • Anonymous

    The Kalam cosmological argument by William Lane Craig, that is probably where craig defends the argument at lenght, Mr athey there should give up on trying to gather data from debates or stuff he reads in other blogs and you know… Go straight to the book!

  • Logan Rees

    I actually agree with the arbitrarity of God; it’s more or less what deists and omnists believe. More proof that Dawkins doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about.

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