Monday, April 12, 2010

Proofs for the existence of God part 3

The third proof we'll look at is presented by William Lane Craig, a leading Christian apologist and philosopher. Craig is known for being as well thought out in his philosophy as he is well rehearsed in his debates. Given some of his great performances against some of the better thinkers in the Atheist movement, he has painted a bit of a target on his back – he's wrecked Hitchens, put Stenger on the ropes, and has been dodged by Dawkins. Here is a syllogism of the argument:

p1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
p2. The universe began to exist
c1. Therefore the universe had a cause

The argument is similar to Aquinas' proof that we looked at in a previous post, except this version goes a bit further by putting the Christian God (CG) outside of Space and Time (S/T). In putting the CG way out there, it makes the proof a bit more believable when it states that the CG was the creator of everything in the universe. After all, it's crazy to assume a being that exists inside of S/T created that S/T – everyone knows you can't exist in something you haven't built yet.

Craig start running aground because even if we granted the claim of the CG transcending our S/T, it doesn't mean that it necessarily exists outside all space and time, that's an assumption on his part, not a claim backed by our knowledge. It may be plausible that since the CG exists outside our S/T, it could have its own S/T, but William Lane Craig doesn't roll with a God that has it's own S/T, he maintains that the CG transcends every S/T – the CG is space-less and time-less – and he does so by simply asserting it as true. We have zero empirical evidence to believe this, it's another faith position.

This argument seems to have some special pleading as well, that's a common problem with these kinds of arguments, if a believer can't make the argument work, they'll just change the rules to help it along. The problem with this proof is that it grants the CG an immunity to the infinite regression while at the same time stating that nothing can be immune to the regression. Well, how logical is that?

I don't normally hear a lot of talk about this next problem, but I think it's worth considering at least; there seems to be an equivocation fallacy relating to one of the terms being used. It's not so clear in the syllogism, but if you ever hear brother Craig talk about this proof it becomes much more clear. In the early part of the proof, the word “cause” is used in the sense of coming from preexisting materials, in the same way my nephew builds his playthings from a preexisting pile of Legos. But as the argument continues, the definition of the word “cause” changes to reflect something that doesn't come from pieces preexisting. One minute we have a pile of Legos which we use to build something, and the next minute, we act as if the Lego pile never existed – I think there's something wrong there.

But that's not all, this argument has another problem: if the CG has a mind – which it must if it's making choices, taking conscious action, or otherwise exercising its own volition – then its mind must exist outside of S/T, with the rest of the God. If that's the case, it follows that we could characterize the CG's mind as being non-temporal (having no time) and non-spatial (having no space, or matter). But that's a big problem since a mind that's non-temporal (read: non-changing) is by definition non-functioning: a mind has to be allowed to change, since it has to be able to reason, will, and feel to be considered a mind, and the only way a mind can do those things is if it has time to do so. A timeless mind would get nothing done since it couldn't take in new information, it can't think about that new information, or form thoughts about what to do with it, since it doesn't have the time to do any of that. By putting the creator outside of S/T, Craig has only accomplished making a self-contradicting entity – one having a changeless mind – and entities of that variety cannot exist.

Thanks again for sticking with these longer posts, I hope some of you found it worthwhile. If you think this subject is worth hearing about, subscribe or digg it please!

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argumentics said...

But as the argument continues, the definition of the word “cause” changes to reflect something that doesn't come from pieces preexisting

Why would you read it in such manner? Could you explain? (I can see any sign of equivocation there, but I'm willing to give up my claim).

From a slightly different point of view, I would double-underline that you (i.e. you and mr. apologetic) are deep into the field of philosophical, metaphysical and other ...icals speculation. None of the premises (and, of course, neither the conclusion) are falsifiable, and therefore are not attachable to any realm of science. For example, I see nothing logically self-contradictory in a non-beginning-point universe. It may not exist, but it's not absurd. Just as, for example, there's nothing logically self-contradictory about an immortal man.

Parabola said...

I caused the equivocation problem by not presenting examples of WLC in action; completely my mistake.

When WLC talks about the term "cause" in debates, he toggles between two definitions. The first is a sort of cause we're commonly familiar with: like how a tropical storm is caused, or an automobile. It's use is something like being a synonym for "create". We would recognize it as coming from a process, drawing in parts from various sources, and culminating in something coming created, or built.

The problem is he tweaks the word a bit later in the proof and arguments, it turns into a sort of "creation" without having materials beforehand. The problem is: Without preexisting materials from which to form the universe, the cause of the beginning of the universe would not be equivalent to the cause of other things that begin to exist by a rearrangement of preexisting materials. I hope that clears it up a bit.

I agree with you on the "far-out" nature of the argument, but that's how ontology is.

I also see no contradiction with your Non-Beginning-Point Universe, but if you were to later say that your NBPU had a beginning point, it would then become a self-contradiction. In the same manner that WLC's argument for a space-less and time-less being is self-defeating.

But, I think I differ with you about an immortal man. It seems to me to be a contradiction, since we know all men die. Without switching to another definition of "man" we know that an immortal man is a contradiction, since to be a man is to have mortality. Now, the man could become something else, something immortal, but then the argument isn't the same.

Drew said...

Basically, his first premise separates things into two different sets. Everything that exists that had a beginning and everything that exists that did not have a beginning.

The problem is that there is only one "object" in this case, with our sets looking like this:
{ The Universe }, {}

By partitioning existence like this, he isn't really making the point he thinks he is. Like Parabola pointed out, it seems like an equivocation when in the first part he references things that already exist (but merely change form) and in the second he references the creation of completely new material.

Parabola said...

Thanks Drew, I think your explanation is much better.

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