Monday, July 15, 2024


Dr. Craig's Unsupported Premise

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I think it is safe to say that Dr. William Lane Craig is probably the most skilled debater for Christianity alive. His most developed argument, a version of the Kalam Argument, is very extensive, sophisticated, and has been debated in various circles, and therefore merits the utmost attention. In my opinion, it is the most rigorous argument for theism that has ever been presented. This is the argument I will examine in this article.

To my knowledge, the most extensive version of the argument is available in Dr. Craig’s opening case against Quentin Smith (see ). While the argument contains a great number of propositions, we can shorten it in the following manner :

1. “Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.”
2. “The universe began to exist [because infinite time is impossible].”
3. “Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.”
4. “If the universe has a cause of its existence, then [we find that] an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans creation is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful and intelligent.”
5. “Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans creation is “beginningless,” changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful and intelligent.”

Dr. Craig usually shortens it even more to only 1-3, but we will also examine a few parts of point 4.

This argument differs from standard first cause arguments because it does not use things like change or complexity as its basis. Rather, it uses temporality, which dispels the special pleading fallacy that is so common to such arguments.

In debates, the common method atheologians have used to criticize the argument has been to attack the set of arguments that compose proposition 2. Although Dr. Craig’s support for it is uneven, I find the arguments used by atheologians in this regard to be inadequate also. The energy used to argue “infinity” is energy wasted, when modern cosmology does not posit that the universe is infinite, and when the term itself is ontologically negatively defined. While infinity has great use in mathematics, it is a mathematical abstraction, nothing more : and we should not attempt to apply it any more than we should seek a perfect circle or the square root of -1.

No, it is clear that the knot of the argument is the first premise, and its use in deducing proposition 3. While the deduction that the universe existed for a limited amount of time is trivial, and we can accept that some of Craig’s supposed divine attributes follow, the passage from one to the other is extremely weak. What evidence does he have to prove that whatever begins to exist must have a cause ? In his opening case, he states :

[T]he premise that whatever begins to exist must have a cause of its existence I think is so intuitively obvious that scarcely anybody could sincerely deny that it is false.

He does support it, in his opening case and elsewhere, by using two arguments : our observation of the caused entities around us, and causality as a principle of human thought. Dr. Craig is no doubt aware, however, that to infer a necessary causality on a whole – the universe – on the basis of observation of such attribute in the parts – the existents around us – is a fallacy of composition. The attribute being transposed here, being caused, is relational and therefore cannot be transposed. Thus he cannot generalize from caused entities around us to the universe in this matter.

We do agree that causality is a necessary principle for our understanding of the universe. This does not mean, however, that we are prevented from realizing that an entity or property breaks this principle. In the same way, logic is a necessary principle for our understanding of the universe, but we can still detect fallacies. Furthermore, our understanding of causality is based on recombination of pre-existing entities and properties, which does not apply for divine creation. Therefore there is an equivocation here as well.

We have to conclude that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the first premise, which is why I call it the “unsupported premise”. Furthermore, we already have counter-examples. For instance, the radioactive decay of an atom is scientifically proven to be both uncaused and have a beginning. Dr. Craig is aware of a general form of this argument, since Quentin Smith used this in debate against him. To which he replied :

The motions of elementary particles described by statistical quantum mechanical laws, even if uncaused, do not constitute an exception to this principle. As Smith himself admits, these considerations “at most tend to show that acausal laws govern the change of condition of particles, such as the change of particle x’s position from q1 to q2. They state nothing about the causality or acausality of absolute beginnings, of beginnings of the existence of particles.

This is a highly unsatisfactory rebuttal, as it shifts the goalposts of his first premise. Dr. Craig (by proxy) isolates “absolute beginnings” as being important, but his first premise only states that “whatever begins to exist” has a cause. He should very well know that physics has shown that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, thus making any such example impossible. But this does not detract to the strength of the counter-example. The radioactive decay of an atom is indeed “something”, it is a property of the atom in question. Thus “something began to exist”.

We must now turn to point 2. Before I continue, I have to clarify something about its formulation :

2. “The universe began to exist [because infinite time is impossible].”

In the actual point, the arguments used to support that the universe began to exist, only prove that the universe has existed for a finite amount of time.

Given this, we must answer that no, we cannot justify going from

2a. The universe has existed for a finite amount of time.


2b. The universe began to exist.

Dr. Craig seems to assume that this passage is obvious, since he does not even bother to validate it, but a finite past is not a sufficient condition to deduce the existence of a beginning. It is perfectly coherent to posit, as many atheists do, that the universe has a finite past and yet had no beginning. Modern cosmology agrees with this position. As Mark Vuletic correctly points out in “Does Big Bang Cosmology Prove the Universe Had a Beginning ?”, we cannot explain with any precision what happened prior to Planck time :

The problem is that prior to the Planck time, the universe is so small that quantum mechanical effects become very important. Therefore, a correct description of the behavior of the universe prior to the Planck time requires a synthesis of quantum mechanics and general relativity—a theory of quantum gravity, in other words. And to this date, no full theory of quantum gravity has been developed, much less attained the consensus status that post-Planck-time Big Bang theory enjoys. Without such a theory, we cannot draw from cosmology any conclusions about whether the universe had a beginning or not.

He concludes that there are, as of present, four possibilities : there may still be a first moment, there may not be a first moment, there may not be any time, or there may not be a Big Bang singularity at all.

Interestingly, to assume that the universe began is incorrect even from Dr. Craig’s perspective, since he states in many places that he holds the position that the Creator is atemporal “prior” to divine creation (whatever this means in such a context). Therefore the universe cannot exist within a larger framework of time, and thus cannot have a beginning.

The underlying fallacy of the first half of this argument is simple, and can be observed in less sophisticated cosmological arguments also. The latter simply assume that non-existence has priority over existence, and then ask bemusedly why anything exists. It is a non-issue since non-existence is simply not a possibility. The same thing is true with Dr. Craig’s argument as it relates to atemporality as a privileged position over temporality, and demands an explanation – a cause – for entities having a beginning. As we will see, atemporality is simply not a possibility for a Creator.

In the second half of this article, I will briefly examine some of the properties deduced as belonging to the Creator implied by proposition 3. These properties are : personal being, atemporal, powerful, and intelligent.

4.1 Argument that the cause of the universe is a personal Creator: 4.11 The universe was brought into being either by a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions or by a personal, free agent. 4.12 The universe could not have been brought into being by a mechanically operating set of necessary and sufficient conditions. 4.13 Therefore, the universe was brought into being by a personal, free agent.

To explain why a mechanical set of conditions cannot give rise to the universe, he gives the following argument :

For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect. If the cause were timelessly present, then the effect would be timelessly present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions.

But this is a complete non sequitur. Nothing tells us that a mechanical set of conditions must remain unchanging : and if it must, then so must the Creator’s context as well. Other facts tell us that this distinction is purely semantical :

  • Whether the Creator is a mechanical set of conditions or a personal being, the fact remains that an atemporal being cannot effect anything, since actions require change.
  • There is no reason to posit that a mechanical set of conditions could not effect the same states of affairs than a personal being. To put such limitations on immaterial properties implies that Dr. Craig can define immateriality positively, which he obviously cannot do since it is a negative term. As Michael Martin concludes : Why these events are created at one moment rather than some other by these mechanical causes is surely no more mysterious than how a personal agent operating timelessly creates something at one moment rather than another. (Atheism : A Philosophical Justification, p104)
  • An atemporal being cannot be a personal being. Dr. Craig has attempted to address such concerns elsewhere, and he states, for instance : Now [J.R.] Lucas is clearly correct, I think, in maintaining that a succession of contents of consciousness in God’s mind would itself be sufficient to generate a temporal series (...). But what if God’s mental life in the absence of any created world is not discursive, but changeless? Why could the contents of God’s consciousness not be comprised of tenselessly true beliefs (...) and be such that He never acquires and never loses any of His beliefs? Would not such a changeless consciousness of truth be plausibly regarded as timeless?

    And by saying so, claims that God can know everything and be conscious of everything. He also gives similar arguments in reply to other objections, especially in assuming that God can create other beings, despite such creation being inherently temporal.

    But it is easy to see the error in the quote above. Obviously there is an equivocation on consciousness here. No one disputes that God may very well possess all knowledge, but in the absence of temporality, it cannot be conscious of such knowledge. Atemporality entails that specific states are possible, but not actions. Thus the notion of an atemporal Creator fails even the most basic test for consciousness.

    4.25 The Creator is timeless. 4.251 In the complete absence of change, time does not exist, and the Creator is changeless. (4.23)

    I have noted a few times before that atemporality contradicts divine creation. If we accept the conclusion in 4.251, then we must conclude that the only possible first causes are first causes that begin to exist, thus contradicting premise 1.

    Dr. Craig does have a counter-argument, however, in that his position is more complex than “God is timeless”. Rather his position is that “God is timeless sans creation and temporal since creation” :

    With the creation of the universe, time began, and God entered into time at the moment of creation in virtue of His real relations with the created order. It follows that God must therefore be timeless without the universe and temporal with the universe.

    But this does not solve the problem of the act of divine creation being performed by an atemporal being, since God was still timeless before the act of divine creation. Rather, it introduces a further problem of how an atemporal, changeless being can be transformed into a temporal being. This is as contradictory as a person in a painting suddenly rising up and leaving his material frame.

    Given this, how are we to make sense of argument such as :

    God had a timeless intention to create a Big Bang, but in terms of the actual causal exercise of His power, the actual volition, “Let there be?!” that would occur simultaneously with the Big Bang singularity.

    When no actual causal exercise or volition can exist, by definition, in an atemporal state ?

    4.27 The Creator is enormously powerful. 4.271 He brought the universe into being out of nothing. (3)

    It seems here that Dr. Craig is committed to the illogical position that something can come out of nothing. As I point out in my article ‘The Incoherency of Divine Creation’, a hypothetical Creator acting on nothing cannot bring something out of it, in defiance of the laws of logic. If we accept this fairy tale, we might as well accept any hypothetical belief, since we have lost all criteria for reasoning. Nothing can come from nothing.

    4.28 The Creator is enormously intelligent. 4.281 The initial conditions of the universe involve incomprehensible fine-tuning that points to intelligent design.

    Surely Dr. Craig realized that by bringing up intelligent design and fine-tuning, he is foregoing all credibility. The belief that the universe is “fine-tuned” – for what, we cannot say – rests on no scientific ground. We simply do not know if any “tuning” is possible at all, and if so, what is its range and its effects. To assume otherwise is to claim more knowledge of cosmology than anyone has at the moment, and is as much an argument from ignorance as any other arbitrary claim about things we know nothing about.

    Even if we assume that this “tuning” is possible and relevant, the argument from fine-tuning reduces itself to an argument from design, in that it attempts to prove design from natural facts. But it is never sufficient to jump from complexity to design, one must demonstrate that natural law is insufficient. We have sufficient evidence, in Big Bang cosmology as well as more advanced theories such as the Hartle-Hawking wave function model of the universe, that natural law is sufficient.

    Despite being a sophisticated and, at least in spirit, scientifically-oriented argument, Dr. Craig’s version of the Kalam Argument fails to justify any of its premises. It is based on a number of assumptions – that temporality implies the existence of a beginning, and that the existence of a beginning implies a cause – which are not logical or scientific. Its only valid finding – that infinity cannot be actualized – is trivial.

    Furthermore, the conclusion that the hypothetical Creator is changeless is also unsupported and contradicts the rest of the argument. It is unclear how the only alternatives for an atemporal being are to be changeless or to experience an infinite regress of changes.

    Therefore, I must conclude that this argument fails completely in demonstrating that a god exists.

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