Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Matter of Common Sense: William Lane Craig's Cosmological Argument Taken Down Once and for All

A Matter of Common Sense
William Lane Craig's Cosmological Argument Taken Down Once and for All
While reading an older post of Luke's over at Common Sense Atheism, I stumbled across a review Luke wrote about the 2009 god debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens. Luke is quick to criticize atheists like Hitchens for a style he doesn’t agree with but praises Craig for a style he feels best suits the debate arena. Everyone is entitled to their tastes and opinions, but when it comes to making an argument and what qualifies as a good one, I feel that Luke has missed the mark completely. On his comments forum Luke stated about William Lane Craig’s rhetoric that:

I agree that Craig's arguments fail, but at least he presents valid (but unsound) arguments and argues according to the rules of philosophical logic. Hitchens, it appears, has never read a logic textbook. 

…if someone wants to attack Craig's cosmological argument they must realize it is a logically valid argument and then attack the premises, or else attack logic itself.

Okay, I'll bite. I'll take Luke's challenge and tackle Craig's cosmological argument head-on. Luke is a smart guy, but I have to disagree with him here about the validity of Craig's argument. In fact, what I will show here is that Craig’s arguments are frequently not logical, they are logical fallacies. There’s a big difference here which we can’t afford to overlook.

Unlike Luke, I do not see Craig’s cosmological argument as valid or even defensible. Granted Hitchens may need a refresher course in modal logic, Craig could use a refresher course in basic cosmology. Obviously Craig’s entire argument hinges on the excuse that because the universe exits it must have had a Creator, which therefore exists. This is also known as The Kalâm Cosmological Argument first proposed by William Lange Craig in the late 70s, mind you this was a time when the big bang and inflationary model of the universe were still being investigated by bona fide physicists, but Craig’s philosophical position is not a good enough foundation to stand on as it so easily crumples under scrutiny and is crushed by the weight of existing cosmological and scientific knowledge (I've written about this before HERE).

The Kalâm Cosmological Argument is a more contemporary or “updated” version of the cosmological argument which attempts to prove the existence of God by appealing to the principle of universal causality. Similar arguments are found in the theologies of Judaism and Christianity where it is known as the “uncaused cause” or “first cause” argument. But at best this argument, a favorite of theists like Craig, is simply an illusion of explanatory depth. On Craig’s website Reasonable Faith he posits:

1. The Cosmological Argument from Contingency

The cosmological argument comes in a variety of forms. Here’s a simple version of the famous version from contingency:

1.  Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own 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, 3).
5.  Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2, 4).

Now this is a logically airtight argument. That is to say, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is unavoidable. It doesn’t matter if we don’t like the conclusion. It doesn’t matter if we have other objections to God’s existence. So long as we grant the three premises, we have to accept the conclusion. So the question is this: Which is more plausible—that those premises are true or that they are false?

As the late great Carl Sagan used to say, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Thus far I have seen no genuine evidence presented by Craig, just lame hypothesis, so my answer would be, sorry Bill, without anything to back up such extraordinary claims they are undeniably FALSE. First you have to have a working theory before you can posit that your theory is, in point of fact, unavoidably true (and by theory I mean scientific theory and not a rudimentary hypothesis akin to philosophical conjecture). Notice how Craig just throws in the bandwagon appeal that other objections to God’s existence do not matter, yet only after following from argument 2 that  presupposes God is the cause--again making the inference of a creator being present, or existent, without the proper evidence. Even so, after laying the groundwork for a plausible (which is to say purely hypothetical) cosmological argument, Craig explains the Kalam cosmological argument as thus:

2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Based on the Beginning of the Universe

Here’s a different version of the cosmological argument, which I have called the kalam cosmological argument in honor of its medieval Muslim proponents (kalam is the Arabic word for theology):

1.  Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2.  The universe began to exist.
3.  Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Once we reach the conclusion that the universe has a cause, we can then analyze what properties such a cause must have and assess its theological significance.

I agree, the universe exists and so it is at least plausible that it had a cause. Up to this point Craig’s logic is sound. But how come shortly after considering the theological significance of this possibility we find it somehow denotes the necessity for a God? This is, in the words of Spock from Star Trek, “Highly illogical.”

Craig, after throwing all objectivity out the window, then goes on to claim his God hypothesis is backed by genuine science (not likely anyway! Since we must ask based on what empirical evidence can we reach this lofty assumption?), while ironically enough denies that the universe could have caused itself (which is actually a valid scientific theory! There are two current competing models, the Steinhardt-Turok model, or Ekpyrotic "cyclic universe" model, and the Baum-Frampton model), and calls such a notion absurd. Strange, since not only does Craig ignore the modern cosmology but also, in order to posit God’s existence, has to claim the exact same absurdity that God caused himself to exist. This special pleading, if you think about it,  in effect also makes Craig's entire argument absurd. Just saying.

Stranger still is that the only thing Craig finds more offensive than a universe which caused itself is a universe which sprang up from nothing; which as far as we can tell is actually how it might have happened. However, Craig assumes since there is a first cause, this causality denotes intent, which in turn denotes intelligence, therefore the mind of a Creator being. And since causality can’t arise from nothing, Craig dismisses the science in favor of his theological convictions, but this is simply a confirmation bias. All Craig has done is cunningly strung together his unverified theological assumptions and offered them as support for the existence of God, but yet again, this is merely begging the question.  

Once again I must reiterate, the real science suggests the universe came from nothing! (See the well known Physicist Lawrence Krauss explain in detail the reasons for why modern cosmologists believe the universe arose from nothing HERE. And if you ask who is more correct: The philosopher or the expert physicist when it comes to matters of cosmology, I think the answer is plainly obvious).

So don’t let Craig’s over simplifications and bandwagon assertions distract you while he uses dubious smooth talk and subterfuge to dance his way around the issue, Craig’s whole premise is not only predicated on several big fat fallacies, but what’s more, it’s dependent on outmoded and outdated physical and cosmological concepts which Craig refuses to correct.

Victor J. Stenger, a well respected theoretical physicist, reminds us, “The main promulgator of the false notion that the big bang was the origin of time is the Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, who has been writing about cosmology and theology…” and Stenger puts the issue to rest by letting us know, “I debated Craig in Hawaii in 2003 and pointed out his error, which he has never acknowledged and continues to ignore.” (Victor J. Stenger. The New Atheism, p.170-170)

In actuality, the Kalâm Cosmological Argument only offers a Perseity Loop, i.e. God alone is supposed to be describable as per se esse, that is, existing out of his or her own inner necessity. This form of thinking stems from Thomas Aquinas, who believed that God was ‘quod est per se, simper est prius eo quod est per aliud’—that which is per se is always prior to that which depends upon something else.

Yet, to set the record straight, there are inherent faults to this form of reasoning. The evolutionary psychologist Bruce M. Hood has acknowledged, “A human mind that links events in this way is always in danger of committing the mistake of post hoc, ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this,” (Bruce M. Hood, Supersense, Kindle Edition: loc. 437-44) which, incidentally, is exactly what Craig has done here with his Kalâm Cosmological Argument whether he realizes it or not. This form of argumentation, however, is an obvious fallacy and even has a proper definition: called faulty causality (to see more on fallacies read my article HERE. The philosopher Quentin Smith also takes issue with the Kalam argument , suggesting that, contrary to what Craig espouses, it actually supports an atheistic worldview. See  Smith's argument in full HERE.)

Needless to say, Craig’s version of the cosmological argument is NOT logical, rather, it is an inadequate premise which reasons wrongly, shrouding itself in sophist language hoping you won’t catch the incorrectness of it, therefore, as I suggested earlier it is a logical fallacy instead. Such reasoning, for me, is not enough to establish the belief in any sort of creator being, let alone a personal God, since all it has done is turn God into a semantic paradox: Creation exists therefore the Creator who created it must exist. But in the end such a fallacy only leads to further circular reasoning; the ill-fated logic fail of the apologist. 

What we can’t say is that the universe exists because of God, or claim that God exists because the universe does, as this is circular reasoning—and it is flawed, not only because it begs the question, but it also is contrary to what the real evidence reveals—i.e. that the universe  appears that it may have come from nothing (See: The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose, The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From? by Victor J. Stenger, and The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene).

The truth of the matter is there is just not enough evidence to claim that God, or some supreme creator being, caused any of it. This is going outside of what the evidence allows for, and it ignores the quidditative knowledge found in modern physics and cosmology, which suggests the universe began creatio ex nihilo, from nothing, everything is made.

With Craig's theory totally falsified, what I think Luke has failed to see between the two debaters is that Hitchens is a strict rationalist while Craig is a desperate harmonist (e.g. Christian apologist). Both are using reason to defend their positions, but just because one may be a better speaker than the other doesn’t mean that his overall argument is the more reasonable of the two. The problem is that Luke is allowing Craig’s smooth sounding rhetoric and philosophical wizardry to blind him to the fact that there is actually NO real argument to be had. Hitchens can only make rhetorical jabs at Craig’s ridiculous hypothesis because that’s all someone in Hitchens position can do to maintain decorum, a straight face, and perhaps manage a few brownie points before driving the point home.

Consequently, this is why Richard Dawkins continues to refuse to debate Craig at all. Dawkins is a strict rationalist, perhaps one of the strictest, and Craig is just a good speaker. And as Dawkins has rightly pointed out, he doesn't have the time to waste arguing with someone who won't even begin to try to see past his own "God delusion." We must understand that from a rationalist's perspective, and from a skeptic who relies upon the scientific method to quantify facts about reality and hopefully derive at a more or less accurate conclusion, Craig's theological conjectures aren't relevant truths so much as philosophical speculations and superstitious suppositions based on irrational faith-based assumptions and misinformed/misconstrued science. And Richard Dawkins is right, there are better things to be investigating than circular what-if arguments based on fallacies and not authentic facts about nature.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Reason is not to faith as fact is not to delusion.

Personally having studied Hitchens rhetoric style closely, I can confidently say that while skeptics and other rationalists may get what he’s doing, not everyone will. Hitchens isn’t so much arguing against Craig’s positions—since he can’t very well pretend to argue against a non-argument now, can he?—but what he is attempting to show is other ways of practical thinking besides Craig’s blinkered, ill-founded, unsubstantiated, unverified, and therefore largely null and void ideas which sponsor his overall ideology. Craig’s position is philosophical, sure, but rational it is not. Christopher Hitchens is basically saying, look here, there are these other considerations, substantial ones in fact, which invalidate Craig’s claims. What this means then is that agnosticism becomes the default position, therefore skepticism and asking questions is the best and surest possible way to discovering the answers (not by listening to this guys pseudo-science and moralizing spiritualist hokum), thus onto the question and answer time! Hitchens wants people to engage the material and start thinking about these issues more deeply. Craig, on the other hand, simply wants to spout out deeply philosophical considerations (which may or may not sound logical but ultimately will confuse anyone who thinks about it too deeply) and move onto the next debate. But as I have shown, Craig's arguments are mainly non-arguments to begin with, so what is there to even consider?

Then there is the matter of debating styles. I think many people who can’t keep up with Hitchens’ rapid pace, flurry of references, and abundant asides may get lost in his meandering style. I'm not accusing Luke of this, but again I must disagree with Luke's comment that Hitchens needs better logic. As I've shown, Hitchens can't argue against a non-argument, so the logical thing to do is to attack the faith issue from other angles which don't involve nebulous theological claims rooted in misconceptions about science. Hitchens isn't a scientist, so he's going to address the moral issues, meanwhile most scientists won't even put up with Craig's antics because as Stenger showed, Craig simply ignores their professional advice and stubbornly sticks to his guns, which also validates Dawkin's reasons for not wanting to debate Craig. 

The philosopher Matt McCormick has stated this about the futility of debating William Lane Craig:

...it’s a mistake for serious philosophical atheists to devote too much time and energy to dealing with Craig because he’s a person in this field who seems to be shouting the loudest and the most.  Craig’s arguments have been dealt with at length and with devastating consequences by many people, including myself.  Craig is rarely deterred by any of these critiques, and he is not prone to acknowledge any objection or weakness no matter how clearly it has been illustrated.  But we shouldn’t mistake his pit-bull persistence and rhetorical skill in defending Christianity for something other than what it is.  The unassailability of Christianity in his mind bestows a weird kind of pointlessness to his debates.  As he and his followers see it, debates can only serve to corroborate what they already know is true—Jesus is lord.  If Craig “wins,” which he often does given his skill, then that just vindicates Christian belief once again, if he doesn’t (and few of his supporters would acknowledge that this ever happens), it doesn’t matter because he would never change his mind, and the private, magical, Holy Spirit knowledge he has in his mind makes any consideration of arguments or the evidence irrelevant.  At this point, given what he’s said about the indefeasibilty of Christian belief, I’m not inclined to take anything that Craig or his followers say seriously until I’m convinced that they are playing the same game with the same rules of rationality that the rest of us are.  An essential principle of rationality, as I see it, is that all beliefs are defeasible, and subject to the tribunal of reason. 

I agree, however, that Hitchens tends to be long winded, verbose, and likes the sound of his own voice. This verbosity and narcissism suit him well enough as he is a popular intellectual icon and a charismatic speaker. However, I do see how this pompousness may come off seeming a tad on the arrogant side not to mention immodestly sophist. Meanwhile, Craig puts on an air of intellectualism for his audience, but any intellectual will see right through Craig’s rather strained and puerile arguments.

In the debating arena where larger than life personalities clash and a sense of elitism runs amuck, it’s hard to balance the finer points of truth and reality with pure agenda driven rhetoric, and sometimes information is sacrificed where wit and verve will serve better when trying to bring the audience to your side.

The bottom line is, when making a claim and defending your position the best arguments always have the better content (see my article on how to craft a good argument HERE). The more reliable the content the more unassailable the argument will become, which not only supports the individual’s position (lending it credibility), but also trumps the speakers’ comments no matter how clever they may be. But the same cannot be said about winning a debate in which, more often than not, the most likable, charming, and charismatic speaker will enchant his audience, and like a conjurer, he’ll capture them in his spell and have sway over their opinions and ideas. In the end, all we can hope for is that the person who best presented their position with sound reason and support will be recognized for having made the sturdier case, yet in practice, this seldom is the case. And when it comes to choosing who you think has won I’d bet my bottom dollar that most will choose the clean-cut  prim and proper blue eyed philosopher over the unkempt pudgy chain smoking rambling alcoholic; but this just goes to show there’s no discerning good taste.   

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist