I’ve been inspired recently by a debate between William Lane Craig (theist) and Victor Stenger (atheist). In it, Craig presents the same, tired arguments that have been in use for centuries. Though discounted many times over the years, these arguments still haunt us today. They are a constant reminder that those using the arguments either do not care to research what has already been said on the topic or simply choose to ignore the fallacies of these arguments.
For now, I will cover (briefly) the Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, and the Ontological Argument. Later, I may discuss some new hybrids, but let’s stick to the classics for now.
The Cosmological Argument
Everything that exists was caused, the universe exists and must have a cause, nothing can cause itself. Yes, the old nothing can come from nothing approach.
The most obvious flaw, and one that I assure you can never be overcome, is that God would have to be held to these same restrictions. There is no adequate proof that God should count as an exception to this. You could say that God has always existed, but then you open the possibility of the Universe always existing, and you’re back to square one. God, in this case, acts as a typical deus ex machina. An intersting side point by Stenger during his debate was that, in particle physics, we know of things that exist with no appparent or intelligble cause.
The Teleological Argument
Nature is complex and seems to have a purpose. These complexities seem like they can only have arrived from mind, rather than random chance. This implies a designer, ala Paley’s watchmaker. There is a modern remix of this argument called the Argument from Fine Tuning, but I won’t go that in-depth here.
Darwinian evolution serves as a counterpoint. Basically, our evolutionary history has resulted in only keeping the lifeforms that function relatively well. Many may say here that we must prove evolution. Not true. This logical construction is arguing that it is necessary for us to have been designed. Our only job is to show that it may have come about in other ways. A more obvious retort could also be that there are so many problems with our species, planet, etc. that it would seem to be poorly designed in many areas. This would conflict with the traditional notion of God as perfect, but does not necessarily derail the argument as a whole.
The Ontological Argument
This one is my favorite, as I don’t see how the terrible logic could convince anyone; yet, it remains in use today.
We can conceive of nothing greater than God. To exist is greater than to not exist. If God did not exist, then we would be able to conceive of something greater than God. So, God must exist. Incredible. I’ve always seen this as less of an argument for God’s existence and more of a definition for people who already believed – God is the greatest thing you can possibly conceive.
The problem, and it is a ridiculous one, is that conceiving is not the same as existing. Kant also critiqued this argument by saying that existence is not a property. For example, you wouldn’t logcally treat walking on two legs and existence the same. So, to add existence to the definition of a concept produces numerous fallacies. Go ahead and think of something ridiculous and then also think that it exists. Whatever you think about must, by definition, exist now. It works like magic! More traditionally, we treat existence as something that has to be empirically proven. That is why people don’t believe in unicorns – because no one has ever seen one.
I hope that all makes sense. I assume readers don’t want to digest an entire term paper, so I kept it short. That also means that I had to move through the arguments fairly quickly. If there is something you think I should clarify, feel free to comment.