Tag Archives: Hallquist

The Power of Education

15585Hulk_school_poster_1_Continuing on with Chris Hallquist’s criticism of William Lane Craig, we get to a section on the increasingly well-known Ontological Argument. This is an argument which attempts to show that, once one understands the concept of God, one will see that God must necessarily exist.

I should say right away that I’ve never been persuaded by this argument. Still, I think that some of the objections to it simply miss the point. For instance, Hallquist claims that the argument could equally be used to argue for the existence of a perfect demon, something like God, but perfectly evil. But this is simply untrue.

What the Ontological Argument does show, in my view, is that God’s existence is either impossible or his non-existence is impossible. Hallquist points out that the key issue is that God is defined as necessary (his non-existence is impossible), and claims that all the other properties of God are irrelevant to the argument.

This is simply because he doesn’t seem to understand the argument. He complains that it contains “unnecessary jargon”, but those terms (such as “maximal greatness”) are precisely the key to understanding why goodness and necessity are linked. That is, they are the answer to his objection.

I’ve run across this situation many times in debate. There’s a particular type that likes to complain “I don’t want to understand all those long words, just give me a reason to think you’re right”. It never seems to occur to that person that “those long words” are the explanation.

But this is odd to hear out of Hallquist, because he goes on to show quite a bit of understanding, pointing out the differences between ontological and epistemic possibility, and discussing modal logic with clarity.

To put it simply, Hallquist agrees with the idea that, if God’s existence is possible, then God exists. He simply (and rightly) underlines that “possible” means absolute (ontological) possibility, and not a “for-all-we-know” (epistemological) possibility.

And, personally, I agree with him here. I think this is a good point that is often missed.

This is, incidentally, where those who dismiss philosophy would do well to learn something about it. Because Hallquist understands these terms, he can offer an intelligent response, rather than resorting to mockery and name-calling.

Still, he should study a bit further. He claims that God’s existence being conceivable doesn’t help to show it possible because “we can conceive of a world consisting of wholly physical objects”. Here, he’s clearly taking “conceive” to be synonymous with “imagine”. But this is not the way philosophers use the term.

To say that something is conceivable is to say that it is logically coherent. One cannot simply respond by saying that materialism is logically coherent, because the argument is, itself, an argument for the incoherence of materialism. One can’t simply assume that the argument fails to show this in order to “prove” that it fails.

As above, I’m not convinced of the Ontological Argument. I can see why people believe that the idea that God’s existence is possible is more likely true than not. But I think J. L. Mackie has raised some good challenges. In the end, I don’t claim to know whether it is sound.

What I can say with more certainty, however, is that Hallquist has not offered much in the way of good reason to reject the argument. And I doubt he would have used the objections he did had he properly understood the terms of the discussion.

“I Agree With You, But You’re Still Wrong.”

hulk2-243pic-1In discussing William Lane Craig’s moral argument, Chris Hallquist (aka “The Uncredible Hallq”) agrees that morality needs to be objective in order to be properly called morality. This strikes me as obviously true. Subjective morality is simply a matter of opinion, which one is free to dismiss without bothering to give a reason.

Hallquist further agrees that objective morality exists. As such, it is very strange that he spends more time arguing against Craig’s defense that there is such a thing as objective morality than with the idea that God is the basis of morality. He agrees with the point, but can’t seem to resist attacking Craig personally.

I mention this because I think it is a pattern that goes far beyond Hallquist. Obviously, the desire to attack an opponent in any way one can is a common human trait. We all feel it, from time to time. But I get the feeling that, with respect to Craig, it has long run unchecked.

To offer an example, Hallquist attacks Craig for only citing those people and points which support his case when he’s debating. Hallquist calls that dishonest, but I would call it “making an argument”. Citing opposed quotations would be his opponent’s job.

Surely, I’ve never heard any of Craig’s opponents cite someone who opposes them, but Hallquist doesn’t seem bothered by that. He’s never once accused, say, Sam Harris of dishonesty for failing to quote any of the (many) people who think his moral theory is bunk. Yet he condemns Craig for this. That being the case, this does rather seem like an attempt to make the argument feel weaker than it is by making irrelevant attacks on the presenter.

That is, it’s a case of ad hominem in the proper sense of the term.

Hallquist does include a point amidst all this Craig-bashing, however. He, applauds the idea that our ability to do amazing things makes humans special. One can always ask “but what’s so special about that”, of course, but he thinks this is a good answer to Craig’s insistence that God is necessary for moral value. We are special because we can do amazing things–end of story.

But, surely, I can be forgiven for suspecting that this isn’t thought, so much as a halt to thinking. Talk about a thing being “special” gets us into appeals to emotion, and taking an “end of story” approach is the opposite of reason. The only logical way a thing could be considered important in anything like an objective sense would be some objective standard of morality. It can’t simply be based on how amazing we happen to find the human nervous system, or anything else. Otherwise, it would be subjective.

This being the case, it is important that Hallquist makes no attempt to offer such a standard. He claims there is one, but doesn’t tell us a thing about what it is. He simply assures us that it isn’t God, and that, if you follow the logic of why such a thing exists, you won’t eventually get to the conclusion that God exists.

As such, he’s done a lot to attack Craig here, but nothing at all to show that the moral argument fails.

The Best Defense…

hulk-smash1-300x199Next in Hallquist’s discussion on William Lane Craig, we come to the moral argument. The argument is summarized as follows:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

The first response Hallquist (aka ‘The Uncredible Hallq’) makes is the claim that Craig’s definition of “objective” needs work. Craig defines “objective moral values” to mean the idea that something is good or evil regardless of whether or not any human happens to think so. Here, I’m somewhat inclined to agree with Hallquist. He rightly points out that this wouldn’t exclude alien-opinion (or any other kind) as the basis of ‘objective’ morality.

Where I diverge from Hallquist is in his suggestion that we replace “human” with “anyone”, then (given that God is included in “anyone”) dismiss God as a source of morality. He claims that Craig has simply rigged his definition to avoid this response, but I think it is much more likely that Craig simplified his definition for a lay audience. Really, it seems to be Hallquist’s treatment of the matter that is ‘rigged’.

Craig’s divine morality isn’t based on what God happens to think, but on God’s moral nature. Beyond that, his argument only requires that morality not be based on the subjective view of finite beings (like humans and aliens). I think it is fairly clear that Craig is simply trying to avoid confusing the reader by sticking to humans in his lay-level definition. But Hallquist, keen as he is to accuse Craig of dishonesty, doesn’t even consider this possibility.

And it strikes me as more than a little suspicious to throw out accusations of dishonesty while ignoring the perfectly innocent possibilities as to why Craig might do something.

But, refreshingly, Hallquist agrees with Craig that morality should be objective. As one who’s always believed that morality based simply on what people think is not morality (and, yes, I believed this before I was a Christian), I’m glad to see some common ground here.

That being the case, it is disappointing that Hallquist doesn’t actually offer a theory of morality, but simply attacks Craig’s. The key point isn’t to discredit Craig; it is (or, at least, should be) to show that there is a view superior to the best of the Divine Command theories of morality.

Many, if not most, Divine Command theorists claim that God’s morality is based on his good nature: that morals are neither arbitrary nor based on an external standard. This is significant because Hallquist asserts that this theory is insane because it asserts that “our moral duties are whatever God says they are”.

Whether Hallquist is spinning, or has simply misunderstood, this is a horrible distortion of Craig’s position. More importantly, it isn’t a valid refutation of Divine Command moral theory. And this is a problem for a writer who can’t seem to get through a page without asserting that “Craig is either dishonest or incompetent”.

But we need an alternative moral theory that Hallquist actually supports. Without this, we are left with an extremely common situation: a passionate atheist quick to dismiss arguments from a theist, but completely unwilling to present an alternative view for equal consideration. If that is one’s modus operandi, one need not have anything like a reasonable position in order to ‘win’ the argument.

Which is why this tactic has always struck me as highly suspicious.

(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.