Dr. Craig's Unsupported Premise
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 http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-smith1.html ). 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.”
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. http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-smith1.html
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. http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/smith.html
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. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mark_vuletic/bigbang.html
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. http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-pigliucci1.html
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 :