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cosmological argument

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Book Review: “Taking Pascal’s Wager” by Michael Rota

tpw-rotaMichael Rota’s Taking Pascal’s Wager is an introduction to the defense of Pascal’s Wager, one of the most maligned arguments for the truth of Christianity.

One of the things that makes Pascal’s Wager most intriguing is the fact that, unlike many theistic arguments, the Wager seems uniquely suited for reasoning with the skeptic. That is, it is intentionally put forward in such a way as to convince the skeptic that Christianity is a good idea. Rota highlights this aspect of the Wager, particularly in two places: first, where he analyzes the probability behind the argument to demonstrate that, on the whole, the Wager is more beneficial taken than not, and second, in the last section of the book which shows practical outcomes of taking the Wager.

The sections on the probability behind the Wager are excellent. Rota condenses down a lot of probability theory and philosophical reasoning based on probability in ways that are easy to understand. This alone makes the book worth a read because it will allow those interested to explain and defend the Wager much better than they may otherwise. Rota also addresses some of the most common objections to the Wager, noting that things like the many gods challenge fail to make a convincing case against the Wager.

The last part of the book utilizes people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer to highlight the practical consequences of the wager. Bonhoeffer lost his life in the pursuit of Christian faith. Was it worth it? Rota’s examples give insights into lives that readers might not otherwise know about, and show that even lives that are full of sorrow are worth it, supposing God does exist.

I did think that the book somewhat seemed to get off track in the middle section, as Rota proceeded from speaking of Pascal’s Wager into discussion of various reasons to think Christianity is more likely true than not. I understand that this was part of his project, but given the amount of works that have been offered with a general introduction to things like the moral, cosmological, and other arguments, I think the space would have better been filled with a deeper look at Pascal’s Wager and the probability theory behind it. Further, more space dedicated to objections to the wager would be helpful.

Taking Pascal’s Wager is a worthy read. It introduces readers to the strength of Pascal’s Wager while also providing–uniquely, I think–a look at the practical outcomes of taking that wager. Although it could be improved by a deeper discussion of the probability behind the Wager and various objections to it, I believe this is an important book for anyone who wants to become more acquainted with one of the most unique arguments for Christianity. Readers interested in Pascal’s Wager ought also check out Jeff Jordan’s phenomenal Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God.

The Good

+Real-life examples of the cost of discipleship highlight message
+Solid analysis of probability theory behind the argument
+Provides broad-spectrum defense of the Wager

The Bad

-Uses endnotes instead of footnotes
-Not quite as focused as one might like

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Michael Rota, Taking Pascal’s Wager (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace

gcs-wallaceJ. Warner Wallace is the a homicide detective and the author of Cold Case Christianity, one of my favorite introductory apologetics books (see my review). He recently came out with his second apologetics book, God’s Crime Scene. The former work focuses on the evidence for the resurrection and the reliability of the New Testament. In God’s Crime Scene, Wallace makes a convincing case presenting evidence for the existence of God.

The first question I think readers will ask is: “What separates this introductory apologetics book from the pack?”

That’s a valid question. There really are a rather large number of intro-to-apologetics books on the market now (thank goodness!). God’s Crime Scene is different from the rest in that it makes real-world examples central to the case that is made therein. That is, Wallace uses examples of crime scenes that he has experienced throughout the book (sans much of the gory details) to set the stage for each exploration of a different argument for the existence of God.

The way this works is simple: each chapter begins with a story that reads much like a mystery novel. Then, Wallace asks a question like “How might we figure out the evidence inside the room with the victim?” After he presents an answer to that question, he shows how similar evidence inside our own “room” (the universe) points to a being outside the room (aka a transcendent being) as the explanation. This makes the book eminently readable while also being almost immediately applicable.

The arguments that Wallace surveys are the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument. an argument from the origin of life, a biological design argument, the argument from consciousness, the argument from free will, and the moral argument. Then, he examines the problem of evil before summing up the case. Each chapter presents a look at the evidence, non-theistic explanations (with critiques), and an argument for why a theistic explanation is superior. The chapters then end with what this evidence tells us about God.

Wallace does a great job summing up many of the arguments involved in some of the standard theistic proofs. Each is analyzed briefly, but with a sometimes astonishing amount of information packed into a tight space. Thus, careful reading is required, and the benefit from a careful read is immense.

There are many illustrations and sidebars found throughout the book. These illustrations are always helpful rather than distracting, and highlight key parts of the arguments that Wallace makes. The sidebars are often discussions of how to weigh evidence according to the U.S. Criminal Justice system or Expert Witnesses that are either for or against the presented argument (this latter point is worth highlighting: Wallace does not only appeal to those with whom he agrees–he fairly presents the opposition’s viewpoint and even references their works directly).

There are a few criticisms I would offer. The first is that it seems like some conclusions are reached rather hurriedly, which is addressed in part through the excellent appendices that add more detail to the cases. Even there, however, one gets a sense that the sheer volume of material to cover is at times a stretch, with some objections only given two or so sentences as rebuttals. The other, admittedly nitpicky issue is that it does seem a little bit weird to have the analogue of the criminal being God. That is, the analogy being used is that just like we can detect a criminal through investigation of a murder scene, so to could we detect God through investigation of the universe. It just seems a little weird. It works; but it’s worth mentioning.

God’s Crime Scene is a valuable resource for those interested in apologetics. The way it is written makes it exciting rather than a chore, and the huge amount of information and argumentation contained therein is well worth the price of entry. I highly recommend it.

The Good

+Great use of criminal investigations to highlight points
+Clear exposition of arguments
+Good illustrations that add to what is written
+Real-world situations increase possibility of retaining information
+Includes experts who are not only theists but also anti-theists

The Bad

-Conclusions at times feel rushed
-A bit weird to have analogue of criminal as God

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. They did not require any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

J. Warner Wallace, God’s Crime Scene (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- A Disconnect Between Parchment and Pew?

pw-jjEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

A Disconnect Between Parchment and Pew?

I just started reading Jeff Jordan’s Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God, which I admit I have high hopes for. Right at the beginning I came upon a brief tidbit I thought was interesting to consider:

A disconnect exists between the arguments that philosophers find interesting and the arguments actually employed by Christians and other theists as reasons in support of their religious commitments. (vii, cited below)

I wonder sometimes about this very disconnect. The average person in the pew is unfamiliar with and unaffected by things like the Kalam Cosmological Argument or the subtle distinctions required to discuss the problem of evil. Rather, they are more concerned with the practical aspects of faith and the amount of work needed to explain these arguments is neither required nor desired. There does exist this disconnect between parchment–the philosophical theories–and the pew–the average Christian. What can we do to bridge this gap? What does this say about the epistemic validity of faith generally? Is this even an area for concern at all? I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions.

Interestingly, Jordan went on to suggest that one way to bridge the disconnect was with pragmatic arguments, such as Pascal’s Wager. It will be interesting to see how he develops that thesis, and how he defends such arguments. I eagerly look forward to continuing my read of the book.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Jeff Jordan, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God (New York: Oxford, 2006).

The Multiverse and Theism: Theistic reflections on many worlds

There has been much philosophical and scientific discussion on the topic of the multiverse. Recently, a lot of this discussion has been happening within philosophy of religion. Some attempt to use the multiverse to overcome classical theistic arguments like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, while others try to utilize it to avoid the teleological argument. Atheists and skeptics are not the only ones who are interested in the multiverse, however. Recently, a few prominent theistic philosophers have utilized the multiverse in inventive ways.

The Multiverse and the Problem of Evil

Some theistic philosophers have argued that the multiverse can provide a new type of theodicy. As eminent a philosopher as Alvin Plantinga writes:

…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world, that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the… universes… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good or evil… [A]s it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds in which there is a good deal [of evil]. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low (Plantinga, 463).

Does such a theodicy help theists with the problem of evil? It seems to me that it may, but that it is not particularly strong. It could be included in a cumulative-case type of theodicy, however.

First, Michael Almeida offers a critique of this position. Suppose that God did, in fact, create such a multiverse. It seems plausible that such a universe would be infinite in the number of worlds (after all, for every “good” world, there seems one can always imagine a “better” world). Here Almeida ingeniously applies William Lane Craig’s arguments about the infinite, not to show that the set of universes cannot be infinite, but to show that in an infinite multiverse one could subtract specific worlds from this set without decreasing the good of the multiverse (Almeida, 305-306). Suppose God did in fact actualize an infinite multiverse–all the worlds which are, on the whole, good. If that’s the case, then God could easily not actualize any one (or infinite!) world(s) without decreasing the total good of creation. After all, it would remain infinitely good!

Timothy O’Connor offered a possible response to this argument, noting that “It may well be that [God] would have a distinct motivation to realize every fundamental kind of good-making feature, some of which are incommensurable. If so, this would put a further constraint on universe types… within a candidate infinite hierarchy” (O’Connor 2, 315). God could have chosen to actualize each individual type of good–some of which may exist in our own world to a maximal extent. This doesn’t seem implausible given the tremendous goodness of an event like the Redemption.

Some may be concerned that an appeal to the multiverse may undermine more traditional theodicies such as the “greater good theodicy” or the “free-will defense.” One might envision the multiverse as a kind of “throwing in the towel” on the traditional theistic defenses. I don’t see why this should follow, because any of these traditional theodicies would be just as applicable to our own universe whether it were one or one of many. There are, however, a few problems I see with this defense, which I’ll put off until the section “On the Possibility of a Multiverse” below.

Which world would God Create?

Some have argued theism is irrational because they hold God is a perfect being, which would entail that God would create the best possible universe–itself an incoherent concept. It is possible that God need not create the best possible world. Robert Merrihew Adams, for example, doesn’t agree that God is obligated to create the “best possible world.” Rather, God could choose to create worlds which manifest His grace (Adams, 62). O’Connor cites William Rowe as providing an effective counter to this by arguing that there would then be a possible being better than the perfect being (O’Connor 1, 114). I’m unconvinced by this counter. If there is no best possible world, God cannot be obligated to create it (because it doesn’t exist).

O’Connor anticipates this response and seems to grant that it may be plausible (115). However, he among other theists, seems to believe that God would actualize a multiverse. He writes, “God’s choice isn’t between… single universes, but between the super universes [‘super universe’ being a ‘collection of one or more totalities that are mutually disconnected save for their common origin within God’s creative choice’]” (O’Connor 1, 116). God, on this view, actualizes many “good” worlds. He writes, “the creative motivation would be not to settle for a finite limit on the individual organic goodness of any of His products” (O’Connor 2, 315). God’s creation of many universes shows his “artisanship” (Ibid).

Such arguments are both interesting and compelling. Those who attack theism based upon the “best possible world” objection may be thwarted by the hypothesis of God’s creative multiverse.

On the Possibility of a Multiverse

Theistic proposals of a multiverse are clearly sometimes motivated for entirely different reasons than naturalists.  What difficulties are there with such a proposal?

First, some theists object to the multiverse by arguing that it undermines several theistic arguments. It does not seem that the multiverse would do so, however. The cosmological argument would stand strong in spite of a multiverse, because any inflationary multiverse would still have a beginning in time. Design arguments would similarly be unchallenged because one would have to explain the fine-tuning of the multiverse. These objections to the multiverse, therefore, do not do much damage.

Other objections to the multiverse require more discussion of the meaning of the term “multiverse.” Jeffrey Zweerink notes several levels of multiverse. Some of these are uncontroversial. For example, the “Level I” multiverse is simply a description of other regions beyond the observable universe (Zweerink, 28). Of course, this is hardly what many mean when they refer to a “multiverse.” What is meant by multiverse here is a Level II or higher multiverse, such as inflationary bubble universes or other generative scenarios (Zweerink, 28-29). The difficulty with these is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason to hold that these universes exist. Zweerink notes that the Level II multiverse is predicted by some models of string theory, but to believe there are literally other unobservable universes on the basis of theoretical predictions alone hardly seems convincing.

Given these observations, it seems initially that while theism is unthreatened by the multiverse (and perhaps even bolstered by its possible existence), there is no better reason to think it exists on theism as on other worldviews. But perhaps that’s not the case. One can reflect once more on O’Connor’s belief that the multiverse shows God’s creative artistry (O’Connor 2, 315). Not only that, but one may even predict that God would actualize many worlds in order to bring about His desire to actualize various goods (O’Connor 1, 112ff). Perhaps one could argue that theism may even predict many universes. In that case, the multiverse is more likely than not.

My thoughts

Clearly, I think there may be some merit in the use of the multiverse in theistic arguments. I think it would amazing if, somehow, we made a discovery which confirmed the existence of other universes, and I do believe people could hold that theism might even predict such a discovery, but color me skeptical. I think it would generate an enormous amount of metaphysical baggage to hold to the existence of a multiverse. While the previous arguments may have shown that theism increases the likelihood of a multiverse, I don’t think it increases it enough to justify belief in a world ensemble. I remain open to the possibility, and indeed some compelling arguments have been offered in its favor, but for now I remain unconvinced. That said, I think theists could still utilize the multiverse in response to the problems illustrated above, because even a hypothetical multiverse could be used to bolster these defenses. Those opposed to theism might here object, saying that I condemn their own uses of the multiverse to try to get around theistic arguments. They would be incorrect. I condemn the use of the multiverse on competing views because I don’t think the other views can justify belief in the multiverse, nor do I think their usage actually defeats the difficulties with their own positions.

Is there a theistic multiverse? Maybe. Can theists utilize a hypothetical multiverse in their philosophical speculations? Absolutely.

Sources

Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York, NY: Oxford, 2000).

Timothy O’Connor 1, Theism and Ultimate Explanation (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008).

Timothy O’Connor 2, “Is God’s Necessity Necessary? Replies to Senor, Oppy, McCann, and Almeida,” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 309-316.

Michael J. Almeida, “O’Connor’s Permissive Multiverse” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 297-307.

Robert Merrihew Adams, “Must God Create the Best?” in The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology 51-64 (New York: Oxford, 1987).

Jeffrey Zweerink, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? (Reasons to Believe, 2008).

Links

I discuss and rebut multiverse objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument here and here.

The Theological Attraction of the Multiverse– An interesting post on the theology of the multiverse.

Christological Implications of the Multiverse– Another post worth reading on theology and the multiverse.

Living in the Multiverse- Is It Science?– Discussion of scientific evidence for the multiverse.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews

Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews offers a witty, heady read for Christians looking to interact with some of the most recent scientific theories. Targeted at Christians who have been befuddled by the latest scientific theories, interested skeptics who want to see if Christianity has anything to say about science, or Christian apologists looking to bolster their scientific knowledge, the book is a resounding success.

Interestingly, Andrews gets the title of the book out of the way quickly. Andrews argues against the common atheistic retort, “Well if God made everything, who made God?” He writes, “Because cause and effect is only proven for the physical world, we can no longer insist that cause and effect are relevant when it comes to the origin of a spiritual entity like God.” I am not sure about the strength of this response. It seems to potentially put God outside the rules of logic, something of which most theists are very wary. A more convincing response, in my opinion, is to simply point out that the concept of God includes necessity. Theistic arguments are designed to show just this–that God is the uncaused ground of being.

Who Made God, however, quickly jumps into stride and doesn’t look back. Andrews lucidly argues that while science can describe events and put them to the test, it cannot explain things in the sense of a comprehensive explanation. Science, for example, “doesn’t tell us why there is [a force of gravity]” (30).

Without slowing down Andrews jumps into a clear explanation of String Theory and its attempts to be a “theory of everything.” Even were science to unify into a theory of everything, however, Andrews point would still stand. The theory would offer descriptions of how things happen, but it wouldn’t explain why the theory itself worked. He also offers a few critiques of string theory, such as the counter-intuitive nature of the theory (48).

Andrews continues on, offering God as a “hypothesis.” He argues that “the methodology of science” can be applied to God (58-59). He argues that Victor Stenger’s God: the failed hypothesis fails on a number of levels. Stenger claims that God “should be detectable: (1) by scientific ‘models’; (2) by scientific measurements… (3) by scientific ‘methods'” (67). Against this, Andrews points out that Stenger is trying to exclude God from existence by “having it both ways.” Stenger argues that God should be detectable, but cannot be because the measurements of science are restricted to the physical. Obviously, this begs the question against theism.

Andrews also addresses nothing, by which I mean the redefinition of “nothing” into “something” often done by atheists (see the debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig). He points out that they often use “nothing” to reference vacuum and/or empty space or dark matter. But this is either deliberately misleading or just incomprehensible (97ff). As the atheists who say this often admit themselves, this “empty” space is hardly “nothing.” It is full of energy. But beyond space, beyond the existence of our universe, outside of space and time–that is what is meant by “nothing” (105).

The God hypothesis is vindicated when it comes to the evidence from astronomy and physics. The low entropy state of our universe (117-118), along with its origin (98ff) both point to a creator. Andrews moves on to argue that the origin of the laws of nature must also point to the God hypothesis (138-153). He then goes on to argue that our biological origins, the information found in cells, and the diversity of life have their best explanation with God. To cover these arguments fully would double the size of this review, but I found these arguments just as exciting as the rest of Who Made God. A sampling: proteins and DNA must have information in order to function correctly (181ff); origin of life theories can only be explained with the God hypothesis (196ff);  evolution is nonfalsifiable (214-216); natural selection is a tautology (219-220); junk DNA isn’t junk (234ff); mutations really only help within dynamic populations and cannot lead to new species (230ff [through 240]). Andrews isn’t finished there, however, he tackles arguments for and against mind/body dualism (250ff).

Another strength of Who Made God is the format. There is a summary of each chapter prior to its contents, along with definitions of important terms. Humor is found throughout the work as the author tells funny stories or makes witty comments about the arguments. These aspects increase the readability of the book to a great degree.

This is not to say the book is without faults. Andrews’ treatment of the Ontological Argument was a bit abrupt. I’ve written on the argument before (see my posts here and here). Andrews’ critiques don’t apply to the most current versions of the argument. The most commonly used ontological argument is the modal version developed by Alvin Plantinga and others. This version of the argument doesn’t appeal to human ideas, but to modal necessity and possibility. To his credit, Andrews does point out that some philosophers find the argument compelling.

Another issue with Who Made God is the sometimes unconventional use of philosophical terms. For example, Andrews defines “phenomenology” as “The way phenomena… manifest themselves” (27). Phenomenology, however, is most commonly used (in philosophy) as the study of consciousness. Outside of philosophy, it generally refers to conscious experience or sense experience, not so much about the phenomena themselves. While the definition is not wrong, it caused some confuse, and may confuse other readers familiar with the other, more conventional uses. Another uncommon definition was given for “Monism.” Most often, the term refers to the idea that all of reality is one [i.e. it is all material, or all immaterial]. Andrews definition makes sense in context (he defines it as “The idea that mind is nothing more than the brain at work” [257] but that definition in philosophy of mind is more often used for “reductionism” which Andrews defines differently as well).

However, neither of these negatives outweigh the significant positives found throughout Who Made God. You know that I’m nitpicking when my main critique focuses on a couple unconventional definitions, particularly when Andrews uses valid definitions that simplify the terminology for the reader.

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God is unique among the slew of apologetics books written at a popular level in that it offers a nearly comprehensive argument for Christianity based upon various scientific theories. Despite a few small flaws, I unreservedly recommend this book to all Christians looking to increase their knowledge of biology, physics, and astronomy. Andrews clearly and succinctly explains several scientific theories in terms which are easy to understand, while also showing the relevance for the “God hypothesis.” Readers will come away convinced that when it comes to science, their faith stands on firm ground. Books with scopes this broad most often shine their lights upon lots of topics and illumine none. Readers will find that Who Made God illumines nearly every topic it touches, bringing new insight and clarity into often confusing issues.

Source: Edgar Andrews, Who Made God? (Darlington, England: EP books, 2009).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy free of charge by EP books. My thanks to both Edgar Andrews and EP books.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument

“[Arguments for God’s existence from an infinite regress] make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” -Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 101.

Dawkins vs. the Kalam

Just over a year ago at Richard Dawkins’ site, someone asked Dawkins to respond to the Kalam Cosmological Argument (see an exposition of the argument here). The reader outlined the argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
Dawkins responded almost immediately: “You left out Step 4: ‘Therefore Jesus died for our sins and regularly turns into a wafer.'”

Dawkins is frequently witty, but often wrong. The argument is for broad theism. The Kalam is intended to show that the universe is caused, it is not an argument for Christianity specifically. I pointed out in another post that just because an argument is for broad theism (or just the brute existence of God), that doesn’t mean the argument is useless evidentially for Christianity. If we know the universe is caused, then we also know whatever caused the universe must be capable of causation (obviously), choice (it must select a moment to bring about the universe), powerful enough to bring the universe into existence out of nothing, etc. This would be powerful evidence and part of a cumulative case towards Christianity.

Then there’s Dawkins’ quote in The God Delusion which I have seen utilized to challenge the Kalam. First, I should note that Dawkins’ quote is in response to Aquinas’ Five Ways/Proofs. Further, it seems to be intentionally pointed towards a Leibnizian version of the Cosmological Argument (for a fuller defense of that argument, see here). But, a simple answer to Dawkins objection, which he seems to think is devastating, would be to point out that the universe and God are different types of entities. The universe is contingent, and God is necessary. That’s not arbitrary, that’s just the kind of things those entities are.

A Philosophical Attack On the Kalam

Not all atheists are as capable of blind, willful ignorance as Dawkins. Graham Oppy’s recent book Arguing About Gods has a thoughtful, challenging section dedicated to William Lane Craig’s exposition of the Kalam.

Oppy challenges Craig on every step of the Kalam, but I’m going to focus upon one. Oppy writes, “[I]t is quite unclear why one should suppose that the allegedly counter-intuitive behavior of the transfinite [numbers]… casts doubt on the idea that the very smallest transfinite cardinals do find application to ‘the real world'”(Arguing About Gods, 140).

This proposal is meant to challenge Craig’s contention that the infinite cannot actually exist. For, if there can be no actual infinites, then the objects we see around us–indeed, the universe itself–must have begun. Yet Oppy’s contention really only reflects mathematical truths. But surely this is a rather untenable claim. Oppy would have to provide evidence that the infinite actually exists and is not just an abstract mathematical concept. Craig’s contention is that the infinite can only be used in things like Cantor’s theory for mathematical equations. Why does Craig make this restriction? He cites David Hilbert, the famous German Mathematician, who points out that:

the infinite is nowhere found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitmate basis for rational thought… the role for infinite to play is solely that of an idea… (David Hilbert Quoted in Craig, 87, cited below)

Yet Oppy provides no reason to think that there are actually infinite things found in reality. Rather, he resorts to claiming that Craig misinterpreted Hilbert’s paradoxes and that “If the Cantorian theory of the transfinite numbers is intelligible, then we can suppose that some parts of it find application ‘in the real world…'” (Oppy, 140). But is that true? Aren’t there plenty of things that are intelligible but for which we have no application ‘in the real world’? I abstract a bit when I point this out, but it is perfectly intelligible that there could be flying pigs, yet we don’t find an application of that in “the real world” other than as a false statement. There are nearly limitless examples of intelligible things we can think of, or intelligible theories, which have no application in the real world.

But perhaps Oppy isn’t making a claim quite as strong as saying actual infinites exist. Perhaps he is just referring to the possibility that they do. The problem then, however, is that, as Craig writes in a critique of Oppy’s position, “Oppy’s attempt to defend the possibility of the existence of an actual infinite is vitiated by his conflation of narrowly and broadly logical possibility.” The problem is that Oppy has confused broad logical possibility (that it is possible to construct a consistent set with an actual infinite) with modal (the notion that an infinite actually does exist in a possible world) or actual possibility in the real world. Again, Craig writes, ” Oppy… seems to take a proposition’s freedom from inconsistency in first-order logic to be indicative of that proposition’s being true in some possible world” (Craig b, cited below). So Oppy has not done anything to defeat the Kalam. Even were Craig to grant that Cantorian theory allows for broad logical possibility of actual infinites, it would not show that they are actually possible in our world. And again, even were they possible in the real world, an actual infinite would have to exist in order to discredit the Kalam. Thus, Oppy’s counter to the Kalam is quite weak–it’s based upon a conflation of broadly logical and actual possibility, and even were he to show that infinites are actually possible, the problem would remain that we have observed none.

Yet, and this is very important to note, even if actual infinites did exist, that wouldn’t undermine the idea that everything which began has a cause. It would only allow atheists to claim the universe did not begin. But how would they go about claiming that? They’d have to show that a model of the origins of the universe which allowed for an infinite past was plausible–more plausible than the alternative. Yet the only hope for showing this would be to make a theory as parsimonious as the Big Bang theory, which postulates an absolute beginning to the universe. So, even were there actually infinite things in the universe, which I very much doubt, that would not undermine the Kalam. It would make the argument more difficult to defend, but it would not falsify it. All it would show is that there are objects which are not caused.

Thus, I take it that the Kalam Cosmological Argument does not suffer defeat, either from vocal, misguided atheists like Dawkins, or thoughtful philosophers like Graham Oppy.

Links:

Again, see an outline and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Arugment here.

William Lane Craig discusses another objection: whether a beginningless past is actually infinite: here. He offers a number of critiques of Oppy’s position here. You can also access a review by Craig of Oppy’s book here (you will need to sign up for a free account on http://www.reasonablefaith.org/).

Check out my review of a recent debate between Craig and Lawrence Krauss, in which the Kalam was discussed here. (Includes a link to the actual debate.)

Wintery Knight writes about how to defend the Kalam at his site: http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/how-to-defend-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-just-like-william-lane-craig/

Sources:

Graham Oppy, Arguing About Gods (New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006).

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1979).

William Lane Craig b, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument” (Leadership U, November 8, 2005), http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/oppy.html, accessed 9/1/2011. Also found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5162.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA: http://spacetelescope.org/images/potw1021a/, found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PGC_39058.jpg.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

One of the most frequently cited and debated arguments for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I have not written on the argument before because there is simply so much good material on it out there that I don’t think I can add anything new. I have, however, run into numerous people with questions on the argument recently, and felt the need to finally get around to a post on the Kalam. Those interested in the argument are highly encouraged to read the links included at the end.

The argument

The argument itself is quite simple:

1) Everything that began to exist has a cause

2) The universe began to exist

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

The argument is deductively valid, so the question is whether the premises are true. If true, the conclusion is certain.

Defense of Premise 1

Why should we think that whatever began to exist has a cause? First, it seems a denial of this principle would undermine science. Science is an investigation of causation. If the anti-theist wishes to deny this premise, she is committed to a fallacy similar to that which she calls the “goddidit” fallacy: dismissing explanation for an event. (Interestingly, saying “God did it” is not a dismissal of explanation: it is, itself, an explanation. It’s saying the explanation which best fits the evidence is theism.)

Suppose premise 1 were false. In that case, things could and would be coming into existence for no reason whatsoever out of nothing. We would observe a remarkably different universe than that which we do, in fact, observe. A tiger would miraculously materialize in my room and eat me.

Now, it must be noted that some appeal to quantum physics in order to say this premise is false. They hold that certain quantum events bring things into existence without reason. Such an interpretation seems misguided at best, however, for a few reasons. First, the event would seem to have an explanation, namely, that it is a quantum phenomena of type x. Second, even were one to deny that this is a form of explanation or causation, the fact remains that these quantum events don’t originate from nothing. They originate from the laws and systems present within our universe. Third, these quantum events, on an examination of quantum theory, are not uncaused; they are merely spheres of probability. Finally, an exclusion of causal chains seems to undermine quantum theory itself or at least make it difficult to correctly interpret (on this, see William Wharton’s paper “Causation with Quantum Mechanics”). Like Wharton, I think the main reason causation is sometimes excluded from interpretations of QM is because of an avoidance of “metaphysical first causes.” Obviously, if this is the motivation for avoiding causation, it is not spurred by a commitment to science, but a commitment to avoiding the metaphysical implications of science.

Finally, consider what Wintery Knight points out about QM and the Kalam:

First, quantum mechanics is not going to save the atheist here. In QM, virtual particles come into being in a vacuum. The vacuum is sparked by a scientist. The particles exist for a period of time inversely proportional to their mass. But in the case of the big bang, there is no vacuum – there’s nothing. There is no scientist – there’s nothing. And the universe is far too massive to last 14 billion years as a virtual particle. (Wintery Knight, “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig” April 8th, 2009).

The quantum events observed are caused: by the scientist. Therefore, they don’t undermine premise 1.

To sum up, the reasons for thinking the first premise true are clear: 1) to deny it undercuts science; 2) we don’t observe a universe with uncaused events; 3) the only reason found to deny the premise is an a priori commitment to anti-theism.

Defense of Premise 2

Did the universe begin? There are many arguments to support the premise that the universe did, in fact, begin, but I’m going to focus on only two: the impossibility of an infinite past and the empirical evidence of a finite past.

Impossibility of an infinite past

If the past is infinite, then we will have had to cross an infinite number of moments of time in order to come to the present moment. However, for any finite number of moments in time, x, there will always be a moment such that x+1 does not equal infinity. There is no way to start at any arbitrary moment in the supposedly infinite past and then add enough successive moments to arrive at the present moment. As such, it would be impossible to experience the present moment. However, we are experiencing the present moment, therefore, the past is finite.

Empirical evidence for a finite past

Despite misgivings from some Christians about the Big Bang theory, it has proven to be eminently valuable for arguments like the Kalam. I would go so far as to say the Big Bang serves as powerful evidence for a creator.

The reasoning behind this is that when we measure cosmic background radiation we can measure the expansion of the universe. Extrapolating backwards leads us to the conclusion that at some point in the finite past, the universe began to exist.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that both premise 1 and 2 are true. However, because the argument is deductively valid, it follows that the universe has a cause.

Conclusions

Okay, so the universe has a cause. That doesn’t prove God exists! Well no, it doesn’t, but it does show that whatever caused the universe has many of the attributes classical theism has attributed to God, and therefore lends credence to the claim God exists. For whatever caused the universe must have extraordinary power (omnipotence);  it must have made a choice to create the universe out of nothing (personal causation/agency); it must have been outside of time (the universe came into existence along with space and time); it must have been outside of space; and it must exist necessarily. As such, the Kalam doesn’t prove Christianity true instantly; it just proves theism is more plausible than atheism. Not only that, but it does show that whatever caused the universe is remarkably similar to the God Christians claim exists.

Appendix: Who made God?

Perhaps the most common objection to the argument outlined above is “Okay, well who made God?” This common retort can be answered after a minute of reflection. Classical theism holds that God exists necessarily, which means that God is eternal and beginningless. The first premise asserts that “whatever begins to exist…” therefore, it doesn’t apply to God. Is this a mere ad hoc fix on theism? No, because it isn’t saying God has no explanation for His existence (which reason is found in His necessary existence); it is saying that he did not begin, and is therefore uncaused. The detractor at this point would have to establish that “everything which exists is caused”–a much more difficult claim to defend than the claim that “everything which began to exist has a cause.” In fact, the anti-theistic claim seems necessarily false, for things which don’t begin are uncaused.

Links

Answers to objections towards the Kalam Cosmological Argument from Richard Dawkins and Graham Oppy

Did the multiverse create itself? Who made God?– more objections to the KCA are answered.

Sites

Wintery Knight  “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig”

Thinking Matters “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”

Wintery Knight, “The kalam cosmological argument defended in a peer-reviewed science journal”

Books

The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology edited by Craig and J.P. Moreland

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: Theism and Ultimate Explanation by Timothy O’Connor

Timothy O’Connor’s brief Theism and Ultimate Explanation has already garnered much discussion since its publication in 2008. Notably, the most recent edition of Philosophia Christi features a book symposium on the work. What is all the fuss about?

Theism and Ultimate Explanation is broken into two parts. Part I addresses “The Explanatory Role of Necessity” while Part II addresses “The Necessary Shape of Contingency.”

Part I contains some fantastic arguments. O’Connor outlines various views on modality and seeks to defend modal realism, which takes modal truths to be actual truths about our world (and other worlds). Further, he defends the possibility of a priori truths against attacks from those who argue that all such truths need to be established empirically.

There are some who argue that empirical evidence (such as quantum mechanics) helps to undermine belief in some methods of reasoning, such as the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor counters this by pointing out that those who make the argument that the “odd” data which may seem to contradict the method of reasoning against which their argument is directed are using the very methods of reasoning which they are trying to undermine. Another possibility is that the empiricist making this claim has switched to a different method of reasoning in order to critique that which holds to things like the law of non-contradiction, but O’Connor points out that a critique from such a method is “underwhelming” at best (46).

In Part II, O’Connor argues that it is coherent to ask the question, “Why is there anything (contingent) at all?” (65). He further argues that the only possible answer to this question is a termination in a necessary being. “If the universe truly is contingent, the obtaining of certain fundamental facts or other will be unexplained within empirical theory, whatever the topological structure of contingent reality… it will have to ground in some way… in a necessary being, something which has the reason for its existence within its own nature” (76).

He then turns to the question of what the nature of that necessary being may be, by examining two possibilities: “chaos” and “logos“. Logos is the view which calls the necessary being God, whilst chaos argues that it is a random being or a brute fact. O’Connor argues that logos is the most rational view to hold.

Finally, in chapter 6, O’Connor turns to theological reflections on the argument thus far. He argues that the concept of an immutable, timeless being seems contradictory to things like the trinity, but maintains that a less restricted of both of these views is plausible. He argues against molinism briefly, by stating that the counterfactuals involved would have no truthmakers.

O’Connor’s book weighs in at about 144 pages of text, but he makes use of every word. My biggest complaint about the book is how short it is. Often, it seems as though O’Connor simply doesn’t take the time to address the issues he is discussing in enough detail. Part I and the argument for the necessary being do seem to be adequately established, but chapter 6 in particular doesn’t do justice to opposing views. For example, the molinist could respond to O’Connor’s argument by saying that the “truthmaker” of such counterfactuals is simply existence in the mind of God. This could lead to an argument for determinism on molinism, but then the molinist could point to the distinction between de re and de dicto necessity. The arguments leveled against a timeless deity or an immutable one suffer similarly from limitations of space. I think O’Connor should have used the space of this chapter to expand the other ideas already present in his work.

As it stands, Theism and Ultimate Explanation is a fantastic work which is great reading for the philosopher of religion. It can be finished in one sitting, but the ideas therein will keep readers contemplating the work for quite a while afterwards. It comes recommended, but with the stipulation that readers may be left wanting more.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

One of my personal favorite areas of philosophy of religion is studying the arguments for existence of God. One type of argument for God is the Cosmological Argument, and one of these arguments was developed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

The Argument

A simple version of the argument, in syllogistic form, goes as follows:

1) Everything which exists has an explanation of its existence

2) If the universe has an explanation for its existence, that explanation is God

3) The universe exists

4) The universe has an explanation of its existence

5) Therefore God exists (Craig, 54ff)

Now I think this outlining of Leibniz’s argument is a little forward. Premise 2 may be a bit strong. I’ve edited it some, though I’m sure many others have outlined it similarly, to become:

1) All entities which exist have explanation of their existence. This explanation is either their own necessity or (for contingent entities) an external cause.  (P1)

2) The universe exists (Axiom [A] 1)

3) The universe’s existence is not found in its own necessity (P2)

4) Therefore, the universe has an external cause (P1, P2)

5) There cannot be an infinite series of non-necessary causes (A2)

6) Therefore, the cause of the universe is transcendent (external) to it and necessary (4, A2 [I’m skipping a few steps here, but it would end up here eventually, as follows from 4 and A2])

What the Argument Demonstrates

I’m content with settling for the conclusion found in 6). Demonstrating that an external, necessary entity caused the universe is as close as to God as many arguments can go. A being which causes the universe would obviously be exceedingly powerful, the argument itself states it is transcendent to the universe, and the being exists necessarily. Many (most?) theists tend to agree that the other attributes Classical Theism has generally assigned to God follow quite easily from the acknowledgement that such a being exists.

The question must now turn towards reasons why we should believe that this valid argument is true.

Defense of the Premises

1) seems as though it should be accepted simply as a given. I don’t think I should need to defend 1). If we abandon the idea that everything which exists has an explanation (either contingently–from something outside of itself, or necessarily–from its own necessity), then we should expect any number of utterly random things to pop into and out of existence for no reason whatsoever! After all, it would be the height of self-delusion to think that, while all things require reasons to exist, it just so happens (how fortuitously!) that our universe is the only thing which exists for no reason. I’ll leave it at that for now… such ideas are more important for the Transcendental Argument, after all.

2) simply doesn’t need a defense.

Step 3) is alongside step 1) as the only two premises which are capable of being denied (for 2 is, again, obvious, and 4) follows simply from the first 3; we will discuss step 5 shortly) to avoid the conclusion. Denying step 1), I think, is clearly unacceptable, so denying step 3) is really the only way to go for the anti-theist. But what reasons do we have for thinking the universe exists necessarily? I think this is patently not the case. After all, everything which exists necessarily exists (necessarily) forever! Therefore, a necessary universe must have existed for an infinite amount of time (for time is part of the universe). But if this is the case, we run into the insurmountable problems which an infinite past brings up (these problems are also important for the Kalam Cosmological Argument).

I’ll pick just one problem to demonstrate: if the past is actually infinite (as it must be, granting a necessary universe), then we could never get to the present moment, for we would have had to traverse an actually infinite amount of time to get here! Not only that, but as time passes, there is no time being “added” to what came before. Infinity is infinity and it cannot be increased by adding to it or decreased from taking away from it. Therefore, every second which seems as though it is lengthening our lives is actually not doing anything of the sort, despite every commonsense notion with which we have lived out whole lives saying otherwise! The universe, on this view, is a deceptive place, in which nothing is as it seems.

Not only that, but if the universe were necessary, then it seems as though hard determinism–that is, the view that there is no freedom of the will whatsoever–must be the case. For, if the universe exists necessarily, then it has possessed all of its parts necessarily, forever.

Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any reason as to why the universe could not have been different. To assert the universe exists necessarily, once again, means to assert that no part of the universe could have failed to exist. Think of it this way: the universe in which I ate breakfast this morning (as opposed to this universe, in which I did not [shame on me, I know]) is logically impossible. Why? Because things which exist necessarily cannot change!

Worse yet, the explanation of a necessary universe leads to the question of why exactly everything is as it is. The anti-theistic view of such a universe is that, necessarily, the universe exists as it does, which happens to have an extraordinary amount of order, laws of nature which happen to allow for life, etc. (this objection was brought to my attention through Stephen Parrish’s God and Necessity, 241).

Thus, even if we grant that it is possible the universe exists necessarily, the individual properties of the universe still call out for explanation: why is it that the universal constants are what they are, and don’t deviate by the infinitesimal amount which would have prevented the existence of life? Ultimately, then, the necessary universe theory falls victim not just to objections against the idea of a necessary universe, but it also falls victim to the objections against the universe existing for no reasons whatsoever.

This means that we have established 1-4. Step 5 is an axiom which I have proposed, because it seems to me quite clear that an infinite regress of contingent causes is a vicious regress–an impossibility. Everything in such a chain would have to, by 1), have a cause outside of itself. If we take C1 to be caused by C2, but both are contingent, then C2 calls for an explanation, C3, which calls for C4, which calls for C5… ad infinitum. I don’t see any reason to deny that this regress is vicious.

Thus, 1-5 have been established. If this is the case, however, then 6 follows, simply because at some point the series of causes C1…C5… would have to be terminated in N1 (a necessary cause). Furthermore, this cause would be external to the universe, from step 1). Thus, the Leibnizian Cosmological argument provides us with powerful reasons to think that a transcendent, powerful, necessary entity brought the universe into existence. I don’t see any reason to call this entity anything but God. There  are many reasons to think that an entity with these properties (namely, necessary existence, transcendence, omnipotence) would possess many or all the other properties generally assigned to God.

Therefore, God exists.

Sources:

Craig, William Lane. On Guard. David C. Cook Publishers. 2010.

Parrish, Stephen. God and Necessity. University Press of America. 1997.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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