I’ve found Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism” to be much more reasonable than the more popular atheist books. In discussing what he calls “the inductive cosmological argument”, he points out a real difficulty in claiming that the existence of the universe is, by itself, evidence for God.
That is, it is very difficult to calculate the background probability of the universe existing (which would be necessary for an inductive argument). Of course, this doesn’t apply to the previous arguments mentioned (as they were deductive). Still, I agree with him insofar as that point goes.
But that isn’t terribly far, because the argument isn’t simply that the universe is evidence for God’s existence. Rather, like most inductive arguments, it is an inference to the best explanation. Swineburne’s claim in making the argument is that God is a better explanation of the existence of the universe than the secular alternatives.
Given the fact that, by Mackie’s own admission, the atheistic explanation of the universe is that it exists for literally no reason whatsoever, this seems a rather obvious point. It is hard for me to imagine how anyone could disagree with it.
But Mackie does disagree.
He sees nothing strange at all about a “just because” answer to the question (which I find astonishing), and argues that divine creation is very unlikely. But this seems another shifting of his position to fit the momentary need. After all, he’s just finished arguing that we have no way of knowing the background probability for things like the origin of the universe. One is left wondering how he can know the background probability of a creation event–particularly before deciding whether or not God exists.
This being the case, he seems to have undermined his own argument.
Of course, he does raise a similar concern of the theist’s position. He claims that the omni-attributes of God are themselves infinities, which would contradict other arguments for God’s existence.
But this is very strange–unless one believes that all such arguments must work in order to accept that God exists. Rather, if even one of them is sound, then we must accept the conclusion. As such, this is no attack on the inductive argument; he should have mentioned this when discussing the Kalam.
And, in defense of the Kalam, it rejects the idea of collections containing infinite numbers of discrete parts, which is something altogether different than God’s attributes, which are one. That being the case, I don’t find it persuasive, even then. But the bigger point is that it is irrelevant to the argument he’s actually discussing.
No inductive argument is, in the end, certain. But it does seem that theism is a better fit to the data we have than the complete lack of an explanation offered by proponents of atheism.
But, Mackie has something of an inductive argument of his own–against the existence of God. I’ll get to that next.