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Jun 03 2011

Refute this, William Lane Craig.

I’m amazed, time and again, that William Lane Craig is as eminently respected in the world as he is. Certainly, he’s a polished debater, and would likely mop the floor with me in any sort of live debate (given especially that live debates do not lend well to matters of fact over opinion). But his ideas and arguments are easily refuted by anyone given any appreciable time to chew on.

Theoretical Bullshit asked that we do what we can to spread the word that William Lane Craig isn’t taking him as seriously as he deserves. The Kalam Cosmological Argument is nonsense, depending as it does on the premise that all things that begin to exist must be caused to exist, given that we’ve never seen the creation or elimination of matter from this universe (potential white holes notwithstanding, given that they could just be rearranging matter from one part of the universe to another). Who says the universe was “created” at all? Who says that, prior to the big bang if “prior” makes any sense whatsoever, that stuff wasn’t just always there? Or that it didn’t come from some other universe? Or that it didn’t come from some natural process possible only during the hairy physics that exists at the extreme ends of time itself?

While it’s true that things that are arranged into forms must be caused by mechanistic methods — sperm must meet egg to create a human fetus, unless we evolve parthenogenesis — this is the rearranging of existing matter. None of the matter that makes up you was “created” (in the same sense as the KCA uses) by your parents. Not even a newborn — it’s highly unlikely that, once born, the atoms that comprised the sperm and egg are incorporated into your being any more. You’re a collection of matter that’s self-arranged, built out of the constituent components from your environment. WLC’s “have I existed eternally” is a dodge, a strawman. The sub-atomic particles that make up WLC existed eternally, as far as we know, but they haven’t always been WLC, nor will they continue to be WLC indefinitely. By that token, the bits of carbon that constitute your being could very well been in any number of your predecessors, or other life forms — especially if you, as I do, have a habit of consuming biomass at breakfast, dinner and supper.

If you can prove that the universe did not or could not exist in some other state prior to the initial “creation event”, then I’ll accept the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Since you can’t presently falsify the postulate that the matter was always here, despite the fact that the postulate is perfectly falsifiable, then the KCA rests on a conflation of “creation” where matter is poofed into being ex nihilo, and “creation” where existing matter is rearranged into new and transient forms. The former is unproven and untenable in the face of the laws of thermodynamics, and the second is self-evident in every analogy used by every creationist ever to try to imply a “designer” for reality. A watch implies a watchmaker because watches don’t self-arrange in nature by any process in the laws of physics that don’t involve a sentient life form. Everything else implied by these incurious theists — the stars, the planet, mountains, rivers, and life itself — can.

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Daniel M.

    I am a strong admirer of Dr. Craig as his work is very respectable and it might do everyone well who reads this blog to at least buy one of his substantial books (sometimes internet debates and articles aren’t enough).

    Be that as it may, I understand your position here. There may seem to be a “hole” in the argument whereby we assume that nothing was there before something. But, I believe that is precisely what Dr. Craig is arguing, although any defeat of the KCA won’t have any detrimental affects to the Christian faith. Our religion simply isn’t contingent on the nuances and nature of the cosmos – whether it be how they were ordered or how they came into being (in particular); we of course believe that God did indeed create everything, both in our space/time and in anything else that we can’t particularly describe.

    But, I still think he has a strong argument from a causality stand point. I think someone asked him a question about this in particular on his website and answers. It might of been from the Krauss debate he recently had:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=q_and_a

    Cheers!

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    What you’re saying by this, Daniel, is that regardless of how this universe was created, Christians know it must needs have been created by God. What I’M saying, however, is that there’s no evidence that this universe was even created, and that the materials that comprise it may have been in existence eternally.

    If I’m right, there’s no need for the very causality into which you shoehorn God. The universe itself is the uncaused cause, not your deity. If it can be claimed of an entity for whom there’s no positive evidence, then it certainly can be claimed for an entity for which there is.

    You’re definitely right about the defeat of the KCA being no huge blow to conventional Christianity though. The vast majority of Christians don’t even attempt to make such nuanced, logical arguments as Craig does.

    Though this isn’t what physicists are claiming — they rather claim that “nothing” is an unstable state, and that the very laws that exist in this reality are what “created” the matter to start off with. I suspect that the math behind this is better evidenced than my eternal universe postulate, but even that is better evidenced than the personal deity postulate. You have to make several leaps between “one or more divine beings sparked this universe” to “it was definitely Yahweh and Jesus was his son / him and everything in the Bible account of Creation is historically accurate”. And every one of those leaps is too far.

  3. 3
    Daniel M.

    I admit that there is a possibility of a “god-of-the-gaps” argument here. I believe both sides of this spectrum simply don’t know enough yet to make any concrete claims, which is why Craig is making a philosophical one with some contemporary science to possibly back up those claims.

    Here is what I don’t want—I don’t want to stop searching or stop investigating this. Some Christians may feel it unnecessary to even postulate how the Universe started because, indeed, “we already know…” but that would be a travesty in and of itself to stop the growth of science and discovery because we’re arrogant enough to think we have all the answers in a tight little sealed can, ready for anyone who asks.

    I don’t know how the universe started exactly or how it came into form. I do know that God is the ultimate creator and this is without all the scientific evidence anyone can bring me…

    “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Hebrews 11:3

    Contrary to other ancient near east creation accounts, God is transcendent—greater than the “powers of the world” (sun, moon, stars, the whole cosmos)—because He created it. This is in stark opposition to the other ANE creation accounts where the moon god fought the sun god and the ocean god didn’t agree…etc….

    Anyway, I see your point, but ultimately, for me, God is creator over all and the primacy of my faith depends on His nature in this way.

  4. 4
    Dan J

    Hi Daniel! Haven’t chatted here with you in a while. Hope all is going well.

    I don’t know how the universe started exactly or how it came into form. I do know that God is the ultimate creator and this is without all the scientific evidence anyone can bring me…

    That’s the problem in a nutshell, I think. Theists are performing science backward. They start with the answer they want (God created everything.) and work backward to try to find evidence and theories to support the answer they require.

    Are you saying that no evidence could convince you that theistic creation as you currently understand it is not valid? I just want to be sure I understood the second sentence in the blockquote above.

  5. 5
    Daniel M.

    No. I am saying that I believe this automatically — it is an “a priori” belief for me.

    In terms of there being evidence that refutes my claim to theistic creation, I’m not sure what that would look like, much the same way evidence that God exists in the positive would look like.

    I think we all start from the presupposition that makes a distinction between what is “natural” and “supernatural.” This causes to expect something prior to finding it. We want, for example, God to “show up” for us. Well, what would that even look like? Sure, we have ideas. Maybe its some illuminated mist that moves around or maybe He shows up as an old man with a beard. The problem is that we assume we know what the evidence will look like or what God will look like.

    This is part of the problem with Behe’s theory — it could very well be that we don’t fully understand the flagellum and in the future we will at some point have more detail as to how that amazing biological mechanism works. As a result, we won’t be so quick to say…”Its impossible for it to have happened by chance.”

    But that brings me to another point. In the ancient days, such as when Genesis was written to the people, they didn’t make this distinction between natural and supernatural. God was a part of every function.

    It doesn’t matter that we can look at something and explain its physical properties and how they work together – that doesn’t destroy its meaning as a function in the world and it doesn’t take away the fact that God exists.

    Both sides have been guilty of looking at all of this from the wrong perspective.

  6. 6
    Daniel M.

    And this Morning, William L. Craig responds to this video….

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=q_and_a

  7. 7
    Jason Thibeault

    And his reply suffers from the exact same conflation of “creation” with “creation” I mentioned in the post above. His only example to counter the “we have not observed things to begin to exist ex nihilo” was “you began to exist”. I mean, Jesus H. Santos. It’s like he doesn’t have a rebuttal. All he can do is call the argument “a joke”, a “mare’s nest”, and so bad he should include it in his top-ten bad arguments.

    This is a legitimate flaw in his argument. He will not address it. And he’s the guy most theists look up to? Seriously?

  8. 8
    Jason Thibeault

    Okay, given a bit of time to chew this over, I think he’s taking all too seriously the “this proves God does not exist” argument, when I strongly suspect Theoretical Bullshit was using it to illustrate how utterly useless the Kalam argument is. If you boil away all the unproven assertions in the premises in both arguments, the whole conversation amounts to “God did it” / “Nuh-uh”. Or, alternately, per my own interpretation of the counterargument, “did what exactly?”.

  9. 9
    Daniel M.

    So what is the flaw exactly? That the premises are assumptive? He does parts of his published work that dive into the details. He offers the most basic form of the argument, but if you get his book “Reasonable Faith” you can see the details.

  10. 10
    Jason Thibeault

    Oh, sorry Daniel, didn’t realize you’d replied here again. It’s been… crazy lately. To say the least.

    I haven’t read his book, nor do I intend to, unless someone gives it to me at no cost. Reviews of it seem to indicate that it is not much more detailed than his debating tactics on the topic, though, so I’m not sure I’d glean anything new from it.

    As I’ve said before, Craig is a talented debater, and he even knows a good deal more of the terms of the field of philosophy than I care to learn. My major problem with his dismissive handling of TheoreticalBullshit’s argument is that it again depends on a conflation of “creation ex nihilo” and “creation via rearranging of matter”, for which I’m sure there are philosophical terms better suited to the argument. His premise that creation can only happen caused, refers to mechanistic creation where existing matter is rearranged. We have never observed creation ex nihilo, and have no reason to believe it can occur at all. The theistic “God created the universe” is creation ex nihilo. One cannot call his first premise correct where it conflates definitions like that.

    I don’t believe the Kalam argument against God posed by Theoretical Bullshit necessarily works, mostly for the same reason I don’t believe Craig’s argument FOR God works — because they presume part of the argument, e.g. how the universe was created. We don’t know how the universe was created — we don’t know if it existed in a form different from what we know, but with all the matter available to be rearranged, before it was “created” in the form we know now via the Big Bang. We also don’t know if there are mechanisms (e.g. branes of reality colliding) by which it could be “created” in the sense of being rearranged naturally — like, the collisions of the branes caused the spark of the bang. All of these ideas are presumptive. They are the realm of theoretical physics, until the math gets worked out and we have a scenario that fits all the math and all the evidence parsimoniously. Throwing a deity into the equation is premature and unnecessary multiplicity, violating Occam’s Razor.

  11. 11
    Rich Wilson

    Not to derail, but did you know that guy is a daytime soap actor?

    http://friendlyatheist.com/2011/06/21/atheist-wins-daytime-emmy-award/

  12. 12
    Jason Thibeault

    Holy shit. I had no idea. What’s worse is, at my workplace the lunch room TV is often tuned to soaps. I might theoretically have seen him and had a “holy shit” moment in public.

    Well then. Thank you for sparing me that kind of embarassment.

  13. 13
    B9

    Sorry to rehash a two-year-old topic, but I just came across this and had a few thoughts.

    You said:
    [Craig's] only example to counter the “we have not observed things to begin to exist ex nihilo” was “you began to exist”. I mean, Jesus H. Santos. It’s like he doesn’t have a rebuttal.

    I think you will find that WLC has given a rebuttal here, and a strong one at that. When he says “you” began to exist, he is speaking about more than just your body, he is also speaking about your mind, or your “self.” While you may personally reject metaphysical dualism, it is not an unreasonable position. In a nutshell, to accept it is to say the mind is something different from the stuff which makes up the body. The mind itself is not reconfigurable bits of matter (even if the brain is); it is in fact something that has come into being in an entirely different way that a table made by a carpenter (which is arguably just a rearrangement of matter). To say that your mind has always existed is contrary to your experience, and it is a position which is difficult to justify. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to conclude that “you” have not always existed (even if the matter you are composed of has).

    The mind/body distinction is only one way in which you can understand Craig’s argument that things do come into existence/being. You can also apply the reasoning to things which do not have such a mind/body split, say a plant. The argument would be that the plant is actually a new thing, despite the matter which makes it up having existed since the beginning of (or almost at the beginning of), the universe. You might look into Plato or Aristotle’s conceptions of forms. Despite their different understandings of forms, the principle as applied to a plant would be to say that when the matter was reconfigured in such a way as to make a plant, a new thing is actually created. That is, the existence of the thing is more than just its matter; the matter has either given rise to a new form or has come to an approximation of an existing form. Of course, these philosophies require that one thinks of forms as real things. But the point is, again, that such a position is reasonable, and it lends itself to the argument that things do come into and out of existence all the time.

    To say WLC has not responded to your arguments is to say that his pointed response escaped you. While you may not agree with mind/body dualism or the real existence of forms, they are not unreasonable positions and they do require a serious response.

  14. 14
    DB

    B9 I am curious where you and WLC find this “self” and the “mind”? I suggest some reading on the VAST amount the human brain has changed since the earliest “man”. Unless you wish to turn a blind eye, I am sure you will see where this “self” and “mind” come to being lol. (HINT) It is through matter and the constant restructuring or even growth of the brain i.e. frontal lobe that this perception of the self begin.

  15. 15
    B9

    DB,

    As a materialist, as I am assuming you are, you are correct in wondering where the “mind” and the “self” could possibly exist. Dennet, a committed materialist, posits that the mind and self are mere illusions. How could they not be if all that exists is matter? My position is that perhaps the materialist is wrong, and matter is not all that exists. Craig would undoubtedly agree.

    The large point of my post was that the belief that ‘the mind and the self are not reducible to matter alone’ is reasonable. Even if the mind arises from the brain as you suggest, that is not the same thing as saying the mind IS the brain. It seems that your position at this point must be that the mind does not really exist. I find this proposition very difficult to defend.

    I am also unsure about why the evolutionary history of man and his brain is relevant to the discussion.

  16. 16
    DB

    B9 with all due respect, I am not sure why you engage in a debate or dialogue regarding this specific subject. If your contention is that “perhaps matter is not all that exists”, well perhaps aliens and unicorns, exist as well. If you reduce one’s “matter” and remove the frontal lobe does the self or mind still exist? Clearly it does not, hence it is a construct of matter and reducible by such. I too find your speculation very difficult to understand, where exactly does this “mind” exist then?

  17. 17
    ZS7

    DB, your question “where does the mind exist” presupposes your materialist view. The point B9 is making is that it is possible that the mind is not a physical entity. If this can be shown to be true (or at least more plausibly true than false), then there are good grounds to doubt that everyone has existed eternally. If the mind and brain are one material entity, as you posit, all decisions you have made are simply natural biochemical reactions you have no real control over. Even your decision to believe materialism as true is just a reaction! So you never arrived at your view by any sort of logic or reasoning, just predetermined chemistry.

  18. 18
    B9

    DB,

    Allow me to briefly expand on what ZS7 said by replying to a point you made. You asked why I would continue this discussion if my view is that “perhaps matter is not all that exists.” First, I simply do mean that such a view is reasonable based on a Cartesian dualism, hylomorphic dualism, or some other metaphysics that rejects the notion that matter is all that exists. By saying this, I was not attempting to prove up the case for dualism, but simply show how WLC has provided a responsive answer to the question of whether anything begins to exist (that was quickly mocked and called a non-answer by some who presuppose materialism/naturalism).

    As to whether unicorns and aliens are fairly lumped into this category, I would say no. There is no reasonable argument for the existence of unicorns (well, ok, there are some good ones for aliens, but not of the Roswell sort). There are, however, reasonable arguments for the irreducibility of the mind to matter. I find the qualia argument to be particularly compelling. ZS7 pointed out the problem of intentionality (you merely think you are using logic and reason, when in reality no such formal analysis happens in the “mind.”). Anyway, hope this cleared up some of the confusion.

  19. 19
    Corwyn

    “DB, your question “where does the mind exist” presupposes your materialist view.”

    If the mind is material, you have a further burden of proof, before you can show evidence that a mind could possibly exist, of showing that *anything* non-material exists.

    “The point B9 is making is that it is possible that the mind is not a physical entity. ”

    Then what is it?

    “If this can be shown to be true (or at least more plausibly true than false), then there are good grounds to doubt that everyone has existed eternally.”

    Nope, that is a completely separate argument. Even if minds *are* non-physical (whatever that means), there is no reason to think that they would therefore be eternal. There is, in fact, massive amounts of evidence that minds are not eternal. I don’t remember anything before I was born. Neither does anyone else. If my mind is eternal what was it doing for the last 14.8 Billion years? If it saw dinosaurs why isn’t it giving me full color dreams of them?! If it didn’t experience in any way time before I was born (or after I am dead presumably), nor form any thoughts until it had a brain to do so, then it doesn’t in fact *matter* if the mind is eternal, since it provides no useful benefit.

    “If the mind and brain are one material entity, as you posit, all decisions you have made are simply natural biochemical reactions you have no real control over. Even your decision to believe materialism as true is just a reaction! So you never arrived at your view by any sort of logic or reasoning, just predetermined chemistry.”

    This is an _argument from consequences_ logical fallacy. (I also don’t buy the premise).

  20. 20
    B9

    Corwyn,

    I am going to respond even though your post was directed at ZS7. We can take this point by point:

    1) “If the mind is material, you have a further burden of proof, before you can show evidence that a mind could possibly exist, of showing that *anything* non-material exists.”
    R: There are plenty of arguments which posit that the mind cannot possibly be reducible to matter alone. I hinted at a few in my most recent post (i.e., qualia, intentionality. There are others, such as the ability to grasp universals, which have a more ancient bend to them).

    2) “Then what is it?”
    R: This response shows that you have taken materialism/naturalism as a given. It is question begging: the mind can’t possibly be non-physical because all that exists is physical. The second assertion is the point that is being contested, yet you are assuming it as true.

    3) “Nope, that is a completely separate argument…”
    R: Reread what ZS7 said. He was not arguing that the mind was eternal. Just the opposite, in fact. This is the point which started the discussion. The materialists/naturalists were saying that humans have never observed anything begin to exist, everything is just reconfigurations of matter which have existed since the big bang. But you seem to be of the persuasion, as am I, that things do begin and cease to exist. You began to exist!

    4) “This is an _argument from consequences_ logical fallacy. (I also don’t buy the premise).”
    R: Without getting too much into it, I wonder which part of the premise you don’t buy. If all that exists is matter (interacting according to physical laws), where does choice fit in? Some try to fit it in with theories of indeterminacy, such as quantum physics. I am curious to hear your response.

  21. 21
    ZS7

    I think B9 has done a very good job of responding in a way I would’ve to your last post Corwyn, but I would like to add a few things, in case you ever respond. You sound like you literally started reading my post and began responding without reading ANY of the previous posts and determining context. I honestly can’t believe you thought that I was trying to argue that minds have existed forever. As B9 said, that’s exactly what I was trying to show to be incoherent! Also, my point about the the location of the mind presupposing naturalism was in response to DB. Your “response” had literally nothing to do with what we were talking about. Lastly, on the point about the argument ad consequence, the point I was trying to show wasn’t that the idea that monism is false (although I do believe it to be a good objection), but that it results in the breakdown of what we know as reason. This consequence would effectively destroy the notion of logical fallacies altogether, so to posit one to defeat dualism while affirming monism is incoherent. Don’t pretend that you reasoned out monism if, on monism, reason doesn’t exist! If you disagree with the consequence, give some support for why you disagree instead just asserting it is false.

  22. 22
    Dante

    Hi lousycanuck,
    I think your arguments are based on a misunderstanding of Craig’s argument. The reason Craig is so respected in the academic community is because he makes strong arguments. He’s published defenses of the Kalam argument in technical philosophical journals and the Kalam argument is the most debated topic in philosophy of religion (according to a count by Quentin Smith).
    Those objections you note aren’t anything new. Other philosophers have brought them up and Craig has responded to them in the literature.
    (3 and 4 are your biggest misunderstandings IMO)

    1) There is no equivocation. The defintion of cause is broad enough to include both creation ex nihilo ad creation ex materia.

    2)”The sub-atomic particles that make up WLC existed eternally, as far as we know, but they haven’t always been WLC, nor will they continue to be WLC indefinitely”
    Yes. Craig agrees. The point is that the particles that make up a thing are not equal to a thing itself. The particles that make up WLC may have existed in the Jurassic era , but WLC is not a dinosaur. A dinosaur and a human being are different things. WLC came into existence and T-rex came into (and out of existence) even if the particles that made them up always existed

    3)Your creation ex nihilo being untenable in respect to the laws of thermodynics is a misunderstanding of the role these laws play in modern cosmology. For example GR is known to violate energy conservation. In addition, because of the expansion of the universe we know that new space-time is being created every day. The universe is bigger now than it was 11 billion years ago. There’s more space-time now than there was 11 billion years ago. This space-time is not being generated by re-organising pre-existing materials , but is created by the expansion of the universe.

    4)”If you can prove that the universe did not or could not exist in some other state prior to the initial “creation event”, then I’ll accept the Kalam Cosmological Argument. ”
    Well that’s exactly what Craig is trying to establish in his arguments! Of course Craig doesn’t have the time to discuss every scenario at length in a public debate , but he discusses them in his technical articles.

    I’d invite you to check out Craig’s article where he defends the Kalam in the Blackwell companion to natural theology. You can check out some popular level cosmology books to see stuff about the expansion of space and the role of the energy conservation in cosmology.

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