Category Archives: Cosmological Argument

(Not) Answering the Question

ClassClown_webtile_041012Though he’s finished with his reasons why he disagrees with the idea that the universe had a cause of its beginning, Hallquist has some other things to say about the Kalam. Essentially, he rejects the idea that a cause to the universe would be God.

This is where I come the closest to agreeing with Hallquist. He notes that Craig spends little time on this point, and doesn’t answer questions that seem rather important to raise. I can definitely relate, as I had this same thought when I first encountered the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

My disagreement, however, is twofold:

1. He thinks this means there are no answers to these questions, and

2. He seems to think this defends materialism.

Starting with the latter point, I’m not sure whether Hallquist actively thinks this or not. But it is definitely worth noting that the fact that the universe had a cause is a blatant contradiction of materialism. Craig spends little time elaborating, I’d wager, because thoughtful materialists realize that we’ve already moved past their view.

So, unless Hallquist is willing do defend some form of Platonism (which contradicts the New Atheists’ favorite memes), this isn’t a valid objection.

But, regarding the first point, he simply attacks our certainty of the idea that the universe could have a personal cause by assuming that personal causes must be scientifically measurable. But this, like every New Atheist argument I’ve encountered, is simply assuming that materialism is true rather than proving it.

If Hallquist had ventured a guess at a superior alternative, then, I think it would have been much more obvious how much worse his materialism really is at accounting for the facts.

And this is very telling for me. Initially, I wasn’t impressed by the Kalam for much the same issue as Hallquist raises here. I didn’t see that it should lead me to conclude that God exists–and wondered what other options might be there.

However, the fact that neither myself, nor any of the (many) opponents of the Kalam I’ve read, have been able to give a superior alternative is very important. Actually, no one in history seems to have been able to give an option other than those Craig lists.

Anyone who extolls  the importance of science, of “following the evidence where it leads” and the like, should be willing to accept the concept of a personal cause as the best explanation.

But, instead, Hallquist has simply insisted (without support) that personal causes must be physical as well, and skirted the question of what such a cause of the universe might actually be like.

So, when he should be trying to answer the question Craig has raised, he offers this as a reason to dismiss the Kalam: We don’t already know that there is such a thing as an immaterial mind. But the Kalam is itself a argument for an immaterial mind. Unless Hallquist can give a good objection to it (including a better alternative), then it is reason to believe in exactly the sort of thing Hallquist dismisses.

And it’s Always Been Forever…

Mea_Culpa_(After_Forever_album)_coverartIn attacking the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence, Chris Hallquist has insisted that the universe can be past eternal (and therefore doesn’t require a cause).

But, among the scientific reasons why the universe cannot be past-eternal, there is this argument:

1. The series of events in time is a collection formed by adding one event after another.

2. A collection formed by adding one member after another cannot be actually infinite.

3. Therefore, the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite.

Essentially, this is the argument that you can’t put together an infinite collection of things one step at a time because you’d (literally) never get there.

Now, Hallquist makes the objection that this assumes that the universe started at a certain point, and that this is wrong-headed. The idea of an infinite past is that the universe has always been here, so that it didn’t ever start. Thus, it was always infinite–there’s no need to build it up to an infinite age one moment at a time.

Admittedly, someone as formidable as J.L. Mackie takes this approach. Still, I think it misses the real point of the argument. The claim of an infinite past is, after all, the claim that there are moments in history which are infinitely distant from the point we are now at. And that it is a logical impossibility for us to have reached this moment from those times in the infinite past. It makes no difference whether or not any of them are the “starting point” of the universe, or even that there would be no starting point.

So, one cannot get out of the argument simply by denying that infinitely distant moments weren’t the beginning. One would have to deny that there are no infinitely distant moments at all. But this last is agreeing with the idea that the universe isn’t past-eternal.

That being the case, Hallquist has not given us a reason to doubt that the universe has a cause of its coming into existence. In fact, he’s not adequately refuted any of the reasons for thinking that it has a cause.

But he needs to refute all of them for his argument to work.

It’s Always Been This Way

Infinity-Time1In arguing that the universe must have had a cause to come into existence, William Lane Craig has said that he finds the philosophical arguments for a beginning to the universe stronger than the scientific arguments.

Chris Hallquist, after an attempt to refute Craig’s review of the scientific evidence (without citing any actual science), turns to the philosophical arguments.

He correctly summarizes Craig’s argument thus:
1. An actually infinite number of things cannot exist

2. A beginningless series of events in time entails an actually infinite number of things.

3. Therefore, a beginningless series of events cannot exist.

If this is true, then one is forced to accept what the Bible has claimed for millennia: that the universe has an origin.

Hallquist’s strategy is to argue chiefly with premise (1). He claims that there is no contradiction to be found in examples like the famous Hilbert’s Hotel (where subtracting infinity from infinity can yield any number of a range of results).

I find this response much better than the previous section, probably because Hallquist has actually studied the subject. However, he still has not shown an actually existing infinite number to be a cogent idea.

In fact, I find this to be Hallquist’s best moment in his discussion of Craig. He shows a real understanding of Craig’s argument, and offers a reasonable answer. Even if I don’t find it convincing, and he ignores other points, it isn’t difficult to picture a sane person believing this.

Still, I do disagree.

Personally, I prefer the “Grim Reaper Paradox” to the examples Craig uses. In this example, a man has been passed by an infinite number of grim reapers, any of which will kill him if he’s still alive. But, if one asks the question “which reaper actually killed him?”, contradictory answers surface.

In an infinite string of them, there is no “first” grim reaper, so each of them should have passed a dead man, killed by some in front of it–but this would mean that none of them actually killed him.

But, if none of them killed him, he shouldn’t be dead–which is obviously wrong.

The oddness can be explored further, but the point is that this isn’t answered by Hallquist’s statements about Cantorian set theory. Nor are Craig’s examples that Hallquist failed to mentioned addressed by it. This would be understandable if he then moved on to these ideas, but he seems to think that dealing with one issue proves that all issues can be likewise addressed.

One could say any number of things to this, but the thing not to say is that this is a silly example–not applicable to the real world. Not only is it a logical test, but moments in time are very much like grim reapers in that they advance the heat death of the universe.

This paradox shows that there is no way that we could ever have reached this moment in time were the universe eternal.

So, while I appreciate that Hallquist has understood the arguments about infinities (rather than simply dismissing them as “fairyology”), and gives a much better response as a result of his studies, I do disagree.

As do the majority of people. Very few individuals, even atheists, are still trying to argue that the universe has existed eternally.  There is very little, if any, to take this view.

Rejecting Science in the Name of Science

Fear - HateAfter failing to refute the Leibnitzian Cosmological Argument, Chris Hallquist turns to the Kalam Cosmological Argument. For those who don’t already know the Kalam, I’ve argued for it both here and elsewhere.

Always slightly more reasonable than the average New Atheist, Hallquist doesn’t object to the first premise of the argument (“Whatever begins to exist has a cause”). He’s a little glib, as if he’s doing Craig a personal favor by allowing an obvious truth that is fundamental to science to pass without argument.

Still, he does allow it.

Rather, he argues against premise two (“The universe began to exist”). But, in the end, there isn’t much in the way of argument made here.

The closest he gets is a claim that there are models of the universe consistent with the evidence that are past-infinite. But he never says what these models are, or addresses any of Craig’s specific arguments against these claims. Rather, he simply claims this, apparently hoping that no one will notice that he hasn’t actually made a cogent point.

Really, anyone who is so quick to accuse Craig of basing arguments on bravado, rather than facts, should support his case with facts.

There is one shining exception to this pattern, though. He’s one of the only atheists who is actually willing to address Craig’s repeated use of the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin theorem, which (according to Craig) shows that the universe cannot be past eternal.

However, all he does is quote a passage from another New Atheist writer, who in turn quotes Alexander Vilenkin out of context to imply that there is no reason to think that the universe has a finite past. While it is true that Vilenkin personally thinks a reason will be found to restore an eternal universe, he admits that there is no reason to think this, and has no answers for Craig’s argument that this is impossible.

So, while Hallquist is right to say that many past eternal universes have been proposed by scientists, it is wrong to say that any of these are anywhere near as plausible as the past finite standard model. Rather, they are speculations specifically designed to avoid a beginning of the universe, but which have failed to do this.

So far as I’ve read, no one has been able to point to a valid piece of evidence that the universe is past-eternal (and there is much evidence to the contrary). Those who believe that evidence is required for a belief, then, should conclude that it is not.

Hallquist also complains that Craig doesn’t apply the same standards to “the God hypothesis”, but, here, he’s simply confused. The idea that there is such a thing as a “God hypothesis” is a fantasy of Richard Dawkins. The scientific hypothesis Craig is arguing for in the second premise of the “KCA” is the idea that the universe began to exist. Everything beyond that is logical analysis based on that conclusion. To demand that we apply scientific tests to metaphysics is to quit doing serious thinking and simply to insist on Scientism.

More than that, Hallquist consistently avoids offering an alternative for equal examination when it does happen to be pertinent–as we’ll see later in the series.

But Hallquist has one more line of argument on this point: “What if there’s an undiscovered exception to the second law of thermodynamics?”.

I honestly don’t see how that’s any more scientific than the obvious reply: “Yes, and what if that exception turns out to be God?”.

Hallquist, in fact, insists that the idea that God created the universe would have to be an exception to the second law of thermodynamics, and therefore false. Not only, then, is he insisting that what he himself suggests is impossible, but he completely overlooks the very simple answer to this:

A law pertaining to time and space wouldn’t apply to the first moment of time and space–nor to a God that transcends time and space.

So, for all his implication that he respects science, Hallquist seems to dismiss it here. Anyone who claims to follow the evidence where it leads has no business making an argument from “what if the fundamental laws of science are wrong”. This is the crudest form of wishful thinking.

But Hallquist has more to say about the Kalam. I’ll address that next.


You keep using that word...The first item in “The Uncredible Hallq’s” response to William Lane Craig is the Leibnitzian Cosmological Argument. I’ve already defended the argument in the past. So I’ll simply be responding to Hallquist’s challenge here.

He correctly summarizes it as follows:

1. Anything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its nature or in an external cause.

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

3. The universe exists.

4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1 and 3).

5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God (from 2 and 4).

To this, Hallquist skips any discussion of the first premise, saying only that he’s “not sure if (1) is true”. Personally, I think it is rather obvious that “There must be an explanation for this” is always more rational than “This thing exists for literally no reason whatsoever”. But I’ll return to this in a moment.

In the mean time, he claims that Craig’s defense of (2) is dishonest. (Actually, that’s not what he claimed; that’s the cleaned up version.) Craig makes the point that atheists often claim that, from their perspective, the universe exists without an explanation. He then points out that this is logically equivalent with claiming that an explanation of the universe requires theism.

I don’t know what Hallquist’s problem with this, and he doesn’t tell us. He doesn’t even attempt to offer a non-theistic explanation of the universe, but simply insists that Craig is lying.

That being the case, I feel compelled to point out that I’ve personally read Bertrand Russell, Steven Hawking, J.L. Makie, and countless less known atheists claim that the universe has no explanation.

Really, if Hallquist is going to flatly accuse Craig of lying, he really ought to give us some reason to think so. Or, more to the point, he ought to give us some reason to think that what Craig has said isn’t true. But he hasn’t even tried to do this. He seems to think that the mere accusation of dishonesty is enough to prove that atheists have never claimed exactly what many of them have put in print.

More simply, the fact that Hallquist isn’t well read enough to know that what Craig said happens to be true does not make Craig a liar. In order to refute the premise, Hallquist should offer us an explanation for the universe other than God. But he doesn’t even attempt to do this.

To his credit, he does feel compelled to offer a reason why the argument fails. He claims that one could just as easily turn it around to argue that all non-physical things require a physical explanation.

His support for this, so he says, is that he’s never been given any reason why God doesn’t also need an external cause. But the answer to this is the first premise of the argument, which allows for God (as a necessary being) to be explained without an external cause. He simply dismissed this with an “I’m not sure if (1) is true”. He can’t suddenly act as if he’s refuted the idea that a thing could be necessary, when he simply dismissed it.

He isn’t quite rejecting it, however. Rather, he seems to be claiming that God can’t be the necessary being because he thinks it is “conceivable that God does not exist”. But, here, he completely misunderstands what it is to be conceivable. He simply says that he, personally, can conceive of the idea that God doesn’t exist. But the fact that Hallquist can personally hold that opinion says nothing about whether or not God is a necessary being.

Rather, a thing’s being conceivable (in a philosophical sense) is its being logically consistent. Leibnitz has given an argument that it is logically consistent to believe in theism, but inconsistent to think that there is no such thing as a necessary being. One can’t simply say that the atheism is conceivable simply because one thinks one can imagine it. Like Inigo Mantoya, we’ll be forced to reply “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

As such, this is all based on a very poor grasp of the argument itself. Anyone willing to take an open-minded look at the situation can see that the universe is contingent, and (therefore) needs an explanation. But it doesn’t seem to bother Hallquist at all that he hasn’t done a thing to refute the idea that there must be a necessary being that explains the universe.

Perhaps he thinks he’s refuted it by telling us that he can imagine the necessary being not existing–as if that makes a thing contingent. And this is simply a case study in sloppy thinking; it does nothing to counter anything Craig has said.

Thus, Hallquist has given us no serious challenge to Leibnitz.

Just Don’t Think About It

dontthink1-e1324031637979There seem to be two basic explanations for the origin of all physical reality (i.e. the universe):

1. God caused it
2. There is no explanation

I’ve often been accused, simply on the grounds that I’m a theist, of attempting to halt inquiry. This strikes me as odd, of course, in that those making the accusation are generally of the position that “there is no explanation” or “we don’t know, and should therefore change the subject” is the correct answer to this issue. Surely, I could be forgiven for thinking that as inquiry goes, there isn’t much here to be halted.

But this doesn’t really defend the theist, and I think the more important point here is this: “God caused it” is not a halt to inquiry at all. To be certain, it is not a material explanation. It doesn’t further science to say that God did something without also saying how, in terms of matter and physical laws, he brought it about.

Still, that doesn’t mean that this is not an explanation, let alone a halt to all explanation. To insist that all explanation is scientific is to embrace materialism, which presumes that God does not exist. To use this as an argument against God, then, is wholly circular.

Rather, I find that most who argue that “God caused it” is a halt to inquiry are completely unaware that there is more to be said and discovered about that. I’ve even been told that God is a vague concept. I think this is mostly owing to our current poverty in theology (to which I cannot claim to be immune). The idea of God has been discussed, defined, argued over, and refined for millennia, to say that this is a vague answer or a “semantic cop-out” is simply to announce one’s own ignorance of the history of western academics.

How did God cause the universe?
What does that say about his traits?
Has he created other universes?

These are all interesting questions, and, so long as one is willing to let others ask and attempt to answer them, it can’t be said that one is halting inquiry by proposing God as a cause of the universe.

To halt inquiry is, literally, to stop asking. It seems to me that the dismissive way some suggest that we don’t know what caused the universe, and shouldn’t try to look at what that might be, are attempting to stop inquiry. But (falsely) suggesting that one’s opponent wants to stop asking questions right after concluding God acted is no reason to stop asking just before this.

Of course, most who make this argument are (in my experience) fond of saying that they are “okay with not knowing”. But it is hard to see how this is any different than saying one is “okay with halting inquiry” or “okay with being ignorant”.

God Doesn’t Exist Because Science is Bunk

self-contradictionMuch like Craig himself, I’ve always been surprised that it is actually the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and not the second, that atheists tend to attack.

I expect that this has a great deal to do with the fact that the findings of modern cosmology has supported the idea that the universe began to exist, whereas the notion that anything which begins to exist has a cause is a metaphysical principle – which many atheists feel free to reject.

However, it is the first premise that any real supporter of science will defend most strongly. Claiming that things can come into existence without a cause is to cease to think scientifically and resort to magic.

That is, the whole of modern science is a search for the causes of things. It is founded on the idea, then, that events have causes. Anyone who simply rejects this notion can hardly be said to have a “scientific mind”, and to suggest that things can come into existence without causes is positively anti-science.

To dismiss this idea strikes me as one more attempt to give a simple answer to a complex question. Simply concluding “the universe doesn’t have an explanation, it just is” is surely as much a halt to inquiry as anything the most fundamentalist preacher has said. That being the case, it seems that there’s absolutely no reason at all too think this – and good reason to reject such statements as anti-intellectual.

If someone is willing to dismiss a pillar of western philosophy that also happens to be the intellectual basis of science in order to avoid the conclusion of an argument, well, it is hard not to conclude that the discussion has left rationality behind. Personally, I find it very difficult to picture someone seriously saying that he doesn’t believe in God because he thinks things can come into existence without a cause.

Certainly, anyone who takes this tact is abdicating all claim to defending science.

Lost in Translation

a-universe-from-nothing-200x300Though I’ve discussed a few different versions of the cosmological argument, I’ve just realized that I’ve never addressed Lawrence Krauss’ claim that the universe can arise from nothing.

This is half-intentional, as the problems with his argument have been pointed out many times before. But, to give the briefest of summaries for those who are unfamiliar: Krauss has pointed out that empty space contains vacuum energy, from which virtual particles can arise. It is not impossible, then, that the entire universe is a massive quantum fluctuation.

To be equally brief in criticizing him, it has been pointed out that, even though scientists often use the word “nothing” to refer to the quantum vacuum, it is not actually nothing. Moreover, this addresses only the Kalam, and is irrelevant to the other cosmological arguments.

I bring this up, however, because it is a good example of a common mistake. Philosophical arguments for God’s existence are often compressed into a scientific mold (often mangling them beyond recognition), then attacked for being poor science.

I’ll not deny that philosophical arguments are poor science, but one suspects that something has been missed here.

Using Krauss as an example, he clearly has compressed the Kalam (which is interested in the question “What is the original cause of physical reality?”) to “What caused the Big Bang?”. Thus, he thinks that by suggesting a cause of the Big Bang, he’s dealt with the argument, though the point being made is clearly not dealt with unless he can show that the quantum vacuum could itself be past eternal.

But the key point is that Krauss would never have made this mistake if he’d not assumed that a philosophical argument was an attempt at science.

Numerous attempts have been made to clarify these issues to Krauss and others. But, rather than speculate as to why they have failed, I’d like to make the point that one cannot press the idea that science will answer philosophical questions by simply assuming that these questions are scientific. That would, after all, be circular reasoning.

In fact, I think this is where we get the idea that there is some inherent conflict between science and religion. It seems more that there is a conflict between what is said in the name of science, and what is said in the name of religion. And a real conflict seems to depend on misusing one of the two of these disciplines.

Explaining the Universe

grand_universe_by_antifan_real1If the universe has an explanation, that explanation is God.

This statement is actually much less controversial than one might think. In fact, it is simply a restatement of something one often hears out of atheists. Steven Hawking, for instance has said that the universe will not have an explanation, but “simply be”. Bertrand Russell has suggested that the universe is our terminus of explanation. Many others have made the same intimation.

These men are saying that, from their atheistic perspective, the universe has no explanation. This is equivalent to saying that the universe is either explained by God, or by nothing.

Of course, it is not simply that this is what is being said, it is the fact that there is good reason to say it. Certainly, the materialist is convicted that everything which exists is composed of matter. If this is true, there can’t possibly be an explanation of all the matter and energy that exists (which is how “universe” is being defined in this argument).

I won’t discuss the much longer (and much less relevant) arguments against non-materialist atheists here. Rather, I’ll point out that the most common move I’ve encountered among atheists is off topic.

That is, many begin emphasizing at this point that this doesn’t prove the truth of any particular religion. But, of course, that is a separate discussion. Showing theism to be the most reasonable case precedes an argument for a particular form of theism. And claiming “but the Muslims might be right” does not support atheism.

Rather, the inability of materialism to offer an explanation as to why matter exists is a reason to move materialism off the table in this discussion. Unless, of course, the  materialist wants to argue that there simply is no explanation.

Personally, I don’t see how this last differs from an appeal to magic. Halting inquiry in order to conclude that there is nothing beyond the point where we halted is not a good way to get at truth, after all. I think it much more reasonable, and much more in line with inquiry, to take the view that things have explanations.

Of course, some will press the multiverse as an explanation of the universe. I’ll discuss that in a future post.

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.