Last time I told you that we could all be living on a giant sneeze. As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s in pretty good standing among other creation myth arguments. What is it that allows for so many different arguments with so much variation concerning our origin? Well, it’s because no one has a freaking clue. Almost every popular argument for God implicitly benefits from areas of ignorance. I don’t care if they are given by a professional philosopher, a respected theologian, or Oprah. They must rely on this due to the very nature of what they wish to prove. They must reach a point where you just have to start making stuff up–just like the sneeze.
Let’s examine the current bulldog of theism and Christian apologetics, William Lane Craig. He presents these very polished, professional arguments that sound great during his debates to the people who already believe him. Since Craig is the best out there on the Christian side, in my opinion, I’m going to focus on one of his arguments. Though, the things we notice will be widely applicable.
Is God the best explanation for our existence?
In a debate with philosopher Austin Dacey, Craig presents the Argument from Existence (which is also very similar to his Kalam Cosmological Argument). It goes as follows:
P1. Any thing that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in its own nature or an external cause.
P2. The universe exists.
P3. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is an external, transcendent, personal cause.
C. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal cause.
Thus, he concludes that God is the best explanation why something exists rather than nothing.
I’d like to focus on P3, in which Craig states this explanation must be external, transcendent, and personal. That is quite a lofty claim and your baloney detectors should be at least at “yellow.” So, why does he conclude this? Craig says,
The cause, in this case, must be greater than the universe. Think of the universe–all of space and time. So the cause of our universe must be beyond space and time. Therefore, it cannot be physical and material. Now there are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either abstract objects, like numbers, or else an intelligent mind. But abstract objects can’t cause anything.
Just look at all the suspect assumptions going on here that take advantage of what we do not know. There is the assumption that the cause must be greater, cannot be physical (even though this violates everything we know so far), and also that an intelligent mind can exist without physicality. I have seen no reason to concede any of these points, and one could reasonably continue on this thread to severely undercut Craig’s argument.
Furthermore, Craig is simply inventing his own creation myth. Notice what he does in such arguments; he does not simply take a series of propositions and follow them to their conclusion. I realize he presents it this way, but you should realize that he is working as an apologist. He is taking the assumption that God exists, comparing it to philosophical problems, and creating a home for God that can possibly avoid objections. He has made his own God and his own creation story in his mind, as many do. You won’t find too many theists still holding to a literal interpretation of the Genesis myths. No, they often say things like “maybe a day to God isn’t the same as it is for us” or “maybe God worked through the Big Bang.” These are not pre-existing ideas, they are created anew in the person’s mind to try and reconcile scientific knowledge with their belief.
That is a minor point, though. Let’s return to the argument itself. I contend that Craig implicitly benefits from ignorance, and it is subtle and well-disguised by presenting a deductive case. Just look at what he is claiming. Craig says that God is the “best explanation” for why we exist and why the universe exists. He takes a subject on which no one can reasonably comment and asserts he has the best explanation. How does he get away with this? Quite simply because we don’t know how we got here in the grand scheme of things. It is because of this ignorance that his arguments flourish in the minds of believers. I can imagine the same type of arguments for Zeus being the cause of lightning among the Greeks. The fact is, there are other possible explanations, even ones currently known but also currently untestable, like the multiverse hypothesis. Or perhaps gravity, which according to Hawking is all we would need to jump-start the universe, exists necessarily. Where would Craig’s argument stand then? It would fail, but we can’t rightly assert these possible explanations because we just don’t know. This is the real dishonesty of the apologist’s approach; rather than admit ignorance, Craig asserts an explanation. Craig is polished enough to avoid committing a simple fallacy, but this should really be seen as a close cousin.
Just because science does not currently, and may not ever, have an answer to this question does not mean we can rightly conclude that we have a best explanation in God. In fact, it means we can’t really conclude that anything is the best explanation.
About such things, we are all clueless.
[Later Edit: I’ve added some further thoughts on this type of argument in my post The Sherlock Holmes Defense]
- The Lazy Person’s Guide to Dismantling the Moral Argument
- Current Thoughts on the Kalam Cosmological Argument
- On Absurdity: William Lane Craig and Actual Infinites