Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Craig's Cosmological Argument From Contingency

Before I Begin
I don’t want to rehash what has already been accomplished around the web, and which has already been covered far more thoroughly than I desire to do.  Besides, that is too much for me to take on, and far too much to ask any reader to read or to not get overwhelmed with.  Additionally, I’m not really trying to talk to the people who are already well within the realm of theological debate, but rather those who have had limited to no exposure or interest in the subject, and I do not wish to be anything more than a quick crash course into the subject.
I fully encourage you to do further research around the web to delve deeper into these arguments, as you will undoubtedly find that the arguments go far deeper than I am willing to go here.  However, I must warn you that you will likely lose interest before you ever find the bottom of the barrel of even the first argument you come across.  This doesn't make doing the research pointless though, because ultimately it gives us deeper understanding.
Since I want to keep any reader's interest to the end of the post, and desire for you to be done reading my thoughts on any given argument within five minutes or so, and not be overwhelmed by a wall of text or appearance of complexity, I will only skim the surface and get your feet wet.  Those opposed to my position will likely see this as a deliberate attempt to gloss over important details in order to deceive you, which is why I encourage you to dig deeper elsewhere around the web.
Also, full disclosure, I'm no expert or anything like that.  I'm just going to apply my thought process to these arguments and offer it for your consideration.
The "Best" Arguments For God: Part I of a series
With that, I will begin my evaluation of the “best” arguments for God that I could find.  I will let the apologists and other theists name their own best arguments instead of attempting to choose their best arguments for them.
So I will start with William Lane Craig, perhaps one of the most respected apologists for the existence of God in the Christian community that I know of.  Craig has named five arguments that he considers to be the best arguments for God’s existence.  Let’s look at the first one. 
The Cosmological Argument From Contingency
There are many variations of this argument, with slightly  different phrasing.  This is just Craig’s particular version of the argument.
  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3).
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God (from 2, 4).

What do you think?  Convinced?

My first complaint is the order of the premises.  Generally, the order of the premises shouldn't matter, but the flow is all wrong. 

Notice in the second premise, the existence of the universe is assumed, and then we get to the third premise where the existence of the universe shows up as a premise.  It messes up the flow.  Also, it would flow better if the two conclusions were more separate.  I’m going to fix that, just do some rearranging, and I don’t think this changes the intention of the original argument by doing so, but again I am more than willing to be corrected on that.  I think this just does a better job at highlighting the flow of the logic being represented here:
  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. The universe exists.
  3. The universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1,2).
  4. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God (from 3, 4).
I have not yet addressed whether any of these premises are true or not.  I am simply trying to make the logic flow more .... well, logically.  The first conclusion isn't quite specific enough, it should be more explicitly stated to have it follow from premise one:
  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. The universe exists.
  3. The universe has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (from 1,2).
  4. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God (from 3, 4).

Now, one through three flows like a syllogism. Let’s split this up, because the rest is like a separate argument that builds upon this first conclusion:
  • Major premise: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  • Minor premise: The universe exists.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has an explanation for its existence, and that explanation for the universe is either an external cause or in the necessity of its own nature.

I think this flows much better.  I could nitpick this syllogism a bit more, mostly just on phrasing, but I don’t see that it is necessary.  Because that is the ultimate question, isn't it?  Or at least one of them?  That the universe either exists necessarily or is contingent? We know that already.
What is relevant here is the rest of the argument.  So what’s left? 
  • Major premiseIf the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  • Minor premiseThe universe has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (from previous)
  • ConclusionTherefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God.
I reject the major premise.  Done.

Now, Craig has a habit of putting together these logical arguments with premises that, left on their own, are bare assertions, like the major premise here, but then goes on to argue in defense of those premises outside of the argument in conversation format.
I find that to be a foul.  Your argument should include your supporting arguments as part of the argument if the premise requires further justification, so that it can be dealt with properly.  But Craig isn't in the habit of doing that.
But, since I’m a nice guy, I’ll bring in his justification for why God is the explanation of the universe, that only exists outside of his argument, so that we may evaluate it.
Evaluating Craig's Supporting Argumentation
According to Craig, “the atheist almost always say[s] in response to the contingency argument”:
If atheism is true,  the universe has no explanation of its existence.
He then points out that the contrapositive to that statement is this:
If the universe has an explanation of its existence,
atheism is not true.
He then says that atheists are essentially unknowingly affirming his second premise to be true, which is why he wrote it in the way that he did.
Where to begin... let me just run down a list here.
  1. No atheist I know would ever use the phrase “If atheism is true”. Why? Because of my next point.
  2. Atheism can’t be “true”, because it is not making a claim, it is the rejection of theistic claims.  What he means to say is “If no gods exist”, which is not the same thing as “if atheism is true”, which is just a nonsensical statement to begin with. He could say, however, “If strong atheism is true”, perhaps. But honestly, who says that?  Just say, “If no gods exist” instead if that is what you are trying to communicate.  It is far more clear of what you are talking about that way.
  3. Just because someone says it doesn't make it true.
  4. Just because a lot of people are saying the same thing doesn't make it true.
  5. I challenge the claim that atheists almost always say this.  In my experience, what I "almost always" hear is “I don’t know” in regards to the universe.  Because it’s true, we don’t.  And by we, I don't mean atheists, I mean humans.
  6. There is a misunderstanding going on here.  Craig is interpreting this statement to mean that atheism is dependent upon a universe in which its existence is explanation-less, as opposed to its explanation of existence being the necessity of its own nature. Even if someone were to say that the universe “had no explanation for its existence”, they most likely were trying to communicate that it exists necessarily rather than contingently, and not that it exists explanation-less.  This would just be their opinion though. Which leads to my last point...
  7. Atheism does not depend upon a contingent universe, nor a necessary universe, nor an explanation-less universe.  Just a godless one.

So let’s look at that again, this statement that atheists “almost always” say:
If atheism is true,
the universe has no explanation of its existence.
To me it sounds like something theists think must be a position all atheists have, rather than something atheists actually say.  I’m an atheist, and that’s not something I would say at all.  But anyway, he is taking this to mean:
If there are no gods,
the universe is explanation-less in regards to its existence.
rather than...
If there are no gods, the universe has an explanation of its existence--it exists by the necessity of its own nature.
I don't even agree with that, despite the clarification.
Here is what I would say:
If there are no gods,
then the universe is not explained by a god.
That's where I would stop.  It has not been shown to be necessary for the universe to be contingent, necessary, nor explanation-less in order for no gods to exist.
So let's string all of this back together, and weave Craig's supporting argument into his original argument, so as to show the entire line of reasoning. This is now several arguments, so I will structure it as such. I am attempting to be as fair as possible here, but let me know if I am representing unfairly.

Side Note
In Craig's paragraph-format support of his original premise 2 of God being the explanation for the universe, he briefly attempts to make the case for God actually being the explanation and not just for God existing.  He does this by way of what appears to be a quick and dirty first cause argument.  To avoid derailing this post, I'll save the first cause argument for another time.  But as we'll see in a second, it won't matter, since he can't even make the case for a god even existing with this argument anyway.
Argument 1
P-1.1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
P-1.2: The universe exists.
C-1.1: The universe has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
Now we can clearly see that the conclusion follows from the premises, thus the argument is valid, and we can evaluate the argument for soundness.

I actually have no qualms with P-1.1.  I think P-1.1 is likely true.  Although whether I think it is likely true or not is not the point.  Typically, you want your premises to come from knowledge already available to you, and come to new knowledge as a result of the argument.  P-1.1, while it seems to me that it is likely to be true, it is really more of an assumption than knowledge, and that is potentially a problem for this argument.

I do have a bit of a problem with P-1.2 as well.  It's not that I think the universe doesn't exist, that's absurd.  But the universe is arguably not something that exists, but is rather a set of things that exist.  As a result, this argument may contain a fallacy of composition.

Nonetheless, I personally think the conclusion is likely a true statement.  I have no objection to the idea that the universe is either contingent or necessary.  I personally doubt that it exists explanation-less.

As for the argument being sound, I don't know, since I can't confirm P-1.1 to be true.  I can't confirm that the argument is sound, but I just don't have any particular objection to its conclusion.
Argument 2
P-2.1: Atheists almost always assert that in order for no gods to exist, the universe must exist explanation-less.
P-2.2: From logic, a conditional statement is logically equivalent to its contrapositive.
C-2.1: Atheists almost always (unknowingly) assert that if the universe has an explanation for its existence, at least one god exists.
Now we can clearly see that the conclusion follows from the premises, thus the argument is valid, and we can evaluate the argument for soundness.

I challenge P-2.1.  As I said before, what I hear most often is "I don't know".  We atheists take skepticism to be a virtue, and because little is known about the origins of the universe, the proper answer is "I don't know".

Hell, even physicist Lawrence Krauss wrote a book called A Universe From Nothing, which is nothing if not an attempt to offer an explanation for the existence of the universe, and he is an atheist.  The book is also very popular among atheists.  Why would atheists read or much less write a book that offers an explanation for the existence of the universe if atheists are of the position that it must be explanation-less?

I determine argument two to not be sound.
Argument 3
P-3.1: From C-2.1, atheists almost always (unknowingly) assert that if the universe has an explanation for its existence, at least one god exists.
P-3.2: (While not explicitly stated, there is an implied premise here.  Upon consideration, I believe the implied premise is this...) Anything that atheists unknowingly report to be true is true.
C-3.3: If the universe has an explanation for its existence, at least one god exists.
Now we can clearly see that the conclusion follows from the premises, thus the argument is valid, and we can evaluate the argument for soundness.

P-3.1, obviously same complaint from P-2.1
P-3.2, which is admittedly an implied premise, is just silly and bad reasoning.  Whether this was the intended implied premise or not, I don't see any better valid reasoning offered from going from P-3.1 to C-3.1.  It's either the implied premise I offered, some other even less convincing implied premise, or  there is no implied premise and it is just a non sequitur.  I feel I'm being too generous to Craig.

I determine argument three to not be sound.
Argument 4
P-4.1: From C-1.1, the universe has an explanation for its existence, and that explanation for the universe is either an external cause or in the necessity of its own nature.
P-4.2: From C-3.1, if the universe has an explanation for its existence, at least one god exists.
C-4.1: At least one god exists.
Now we can clearly see that the conclusion follows from the premises, thus the argument is valid, and we can evaluate the argument for soundness.

The soundness of argument four depends entirely on the soundness of arguments one through three.  I've determined arguments two and three to not be sound, thus neither is argument four.
In Conclusion
The cosmological argument from contingency, or at the very least Craig's version of it, does not stand up to scrutiny.  It was actually quite terrible.  But perhaps another argument will be more convincing.

You think?