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Simplified Refutations of William Lane Craig's Arguments

Updated on August 2, 2015

Where did the Universe come from?

A galaxy cluster magnifying the light from a distant quasar
A galaxy cluster magnifying the light from a distant quasar | Source

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The arguments for the existence of God are taken from Dr. Craig's website, linked here:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-new-atheism-and-five-arguments-for-god

In each case, God will be more broadly defined as a powerful, sentient creator rather than as an entity representing a specific religion. Also note that I have altered the order of presentation for Dr. Craig's five main arguments.

We first begin with the Kalam Cosmological argument. This argument begins with the following three statements:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2. The Universe began to exist

3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause

Dr. Craig states that if we agree that the universe does have a cause, then that cause must transcend space and time (it is taken as a fact that space and time only exist in our universe).

He then states that there are only two possible "things" that can exist outside of these dimensions; either an abstract object like a number, or an incredibly powerful, unembodied mind which we may call God. Since numbers and other abstract objects can't create anything, then the universe must have been created by God as the only remaining option.

_______________________________________________________________

The first point is that it is not clear whether causality exists outside of space and time, so if one operates on the assumption that these dimensions don't exist outside of the universe, then an explanation for why or how causality can persist in a dimensionless space is warranted. As Stephen Hawking has famously said, asking what came before the big bang is like asking what is north of the north pole. If time ceases to exist when the big bang formed, what meaning can be ascribed to causality? How can one event cause another if no time exists to separate the two events? To support Dr. Craig's thesis that causality persists 'outside of' or 'before' the universe requires some evidence or logical reasoning (note that even finding a correct term to use here is difficult, since there technically is no 'before' or 'outside' with respect to space-time itself, but hopefully the meaning is understood in a more abstract sense). It may very well be the case that there are other mechanisms beyond causality that we simply can't conceive of. To take the Kalam Cosmological Argument at face value is to assume that we have almost absolute certainty that causality is involved in some form; but there is no logical or evidence-based reason for doing so. On these grounds alone the argument would fail.

Yet there are more problems. The second issue is that Dr. Craig is assuming that only two things can exist outside of space and time, seemingly based on the fact that he can't imagine anything else. But this is not a very rigorous argument; first Dr. Craig would need to prove that all of the things that can exist outside of our universe are comprehensible to the human mind (note here that Dr. Craig himself believes that it is a 'miracle' that we can understand our own universe, which undermines his belief that everything outside of it can be so easily grasped - wouldn't it be more of a miracle if anything?), and that they are entirely known to us in the present (i.e. we will not discover any new possibilities in the future). Similarly, any probabilistic estimate is equally problematic; we simply have no means to gauge the likelihood of any one of these causes, even if we knew what all of the possibilities were.

Thirdly, no argument is given to explain how an unembodied mind could exist outside of space and time, so we don't know whether this option should even be considered as a possibility. From the available evidence that we have, every mind we are aware of requires a body to sustain itself, and operates only in a spatial and temporal environment. Let alone the assertion that this zero-dimensional mind can somehow generate entire universes through the power of 'sheer will', somehow escaping the fact that it should be frozen in time and therefore powerless to act. In some sense it is difficult to even take the God hypothesis as a hypothesis because it is so ill-defined. One could be forgiven for considering 'magic' as an equally plausible alternative, because the mechanisms by which it generates the universe are just as mysterious and unexplained, as is its existence.

Note that science doesn't necessarily claim a credible alternative. It simply claims that we don't know, which is wise considering that we are talking about possibly the most mysterious and powerful realm in all of existence, and that it could easily be beyond the grasp of our comparatively feeble intuitions.

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It is worth revisiting the idea of how rational intuition can or should be used in proofs, as we will encounter similar issues in the following module as well. There are plenty of instances in human history when our rational intuition has been proven wrong. We once thought that, absent any air resistance, a heavy weight would fall faster than a feather, or that the Earth was flat and not round, or that we were the center of our universe when we saw stars, our moon, and other planets encircling our world.

There are other, more contemporary examples as well. What we think of as solid matter is in fact more than 99% empty space; what appears to us as the absolute, constant passage of time is actually relative to the observer; the idea that an object could teleport through a barrier seems impossible according to our macroscopic observations, yet it is a daily occurrence for subatomic particles (see "tunneling" behaviour in quantum mechanics).

It is clear that our rational intuition is not a tool that, when used alone (i.e. with no supporting evidence), should be given our absolute confidence about its predictive power. Yet Dr. Craig never raises this even as an area of possible concern; he seemingly assumes that his imagination is accurate enough to qualify as reliable evidence, and that it comprehensively describes everything that could possibly exist...and even more surprisingly, that this is all true *outside of our universe*, in a realm that, in theory, the human mind would find impossible to comprehend on an experiential level due to the supposed lack of space or time. To reiterate, Dr. Craig is implying that everything beyond our universe can be safely described by his imagination, and that we should have no reservations about his judgement. Yet to have so much trust in Dr. Craig's intuition, without any supporting evidence, is nearly equivalent to holding a religious faith in itself.

It is clear that with all of this in mind, the Kalam Cosmological argument can not be used to support the existence of any type of God.

Note: For those following along from the source document, his first argument called "The Cosmological Argument from Consistency" follows along very similar lines, essentially replacing "cause" with "explanation". I am actually responding to both arguments at the same time - Kalam's argument is simply more descriptive.

A beautiful work of space art
A beautiful work of space art | Source

The Teleological Argument from Fine-Tuning

Dr. Craig writes:

First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, like the constant that represents the force of gravity. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants. Second, in addition to these constants, there are certain arbitrary quantities that are put in just as initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate, for example, the amount of entropy or the balance between matter and anti-matter in the universe. Now all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values...

...For example, a change in the strength of the atomic weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe.

For Dr. Craig, this fine-tuning has one of three possible causes: Physical necessity, chance, or design. He states that physical necessity is out of the question, because to Dr. Craig, all of 'nature' (and therefore, anything which could create such necessities) is wholly contained within our universe, which would be unable to affect its generation since it would not have existed 'before' the universe was created.

As a side note, 'causality' will be assumed to exist in a higher-dimensional or otherwise more abstract form that enables it to continue to exist outside of our universe. We will endeavour to prove that even when causality is assumed to exist in such a form, the argument remains unpersuasive.

Secondly, he finds chance unlikely due to the mind-bendingly small probabilities of randomly obtaining such precise values from within their (supposedly much larger) allowable ranges. Note that the extent of the range is itself unproven and speculative. This will be discussed later.

Therefore, Dr. Craig logically deduces that the only remaining position on this matter is that the universe was designed by a powerful, sentient creator.

_________________________________________________________________

Firstly, the argument is based on the assumption that every possible cause behind this fine-tuning has been accounted for, and that if we can show that two out of the three are invalid, than the third must be the only remaining option. This assumption has not been justified through any argument or experiment - instead it seems to rely solely on our rational intuition as a proof. Understanding how poor our rational intuition is as a predictive tool, we can immediately discard the teleological argument as being nothing more than a speculative argument. This includes an assumption that only one mechanism for generation exists, this being causality. As in the first module, this is unproven as well.

But let us suppose that all of the possibilities have been accounted for. This argument still assumes that the "physical necessity" option must be locally confined to our universe. This likely stems from the fact that Dr. Craig believes that only two things can exist outside of our universe (abstract numbers and God), as the reader may recall from the previous module. But it has been shown that there is no good reason to support this assertion; and one could easily postulate the existence of some sort of higher-order non-conscious phenomenon or mechanism existing 'outside' of the universe that determines the values of these constants.

Now it is important that this mechanism not "choose" these constants from within a broader range, as this clearly recreates the same problem and one could claim that the chance of choosing the right set of constants is still astronomically small (and unlike God, there would be no motivation to choose a life-permitting range).

In this case, one would postulate that there simply isn't a broader range to begin with - that this mechanism determines, at the most fundamental level, what the ranges can be. Thus, in spite of the fact that our natural laws do not imply any contradiction with a broader range of values, from a broader perspective, we would see that such a wide range is actually impossible, and that the universe could only have been formed with a very precise (or highly localized) range of values.

It may be easiest to view as an analogy. Most people simply assume there is a much broader range of universal constants (without justification) - and they view the fine-tuning of our universe as rolling a 1 on a trillion-sided die. The simple idea being proposed here is that this assumption is incorrect, and there are mechanisms (or even metaphysical laws) unbeknownst to us that severely reduce what values such constants can take, so that the probability is radically reduced to 1/10 or even precisely to 1/1.

Now one could ask an even more fundamental question, as to why the range of constants is reduced in the first place. As Dr. Craig states, this is a second-order question. We may be able to describe Newton's laws of gravitation without understanding the nature of gravity itself (although we do, to some extent) - similarly we may be able to hypothesize a mechanism that could generate a finely-tuned universe, without necessarily understanding how it came to be. In any case, the God hypothesis suffers identically from such a problem - why does God exist in the first place, and not any other conceivable mechanism or state of existence?

Thus we see that physical necessity is a plausible reason behind the fine-tuning of our cosmological constants.

_________________________________________________________________

As for the idea of chance, we can consider the world ensemble (or multiverse) hypothesis, which posits that we exist in one of many universes, each with randomly generated constants. The idea is that the number of universes is large enough that generating one as fine-tuned as our own through chance becomes plausible. We need not postulate an oscillating model for the universe, or refer to Lee Smolin's Evolutionary Cosmology (see Dr. Craig's website for details). Let us simply suppose that whatever created our universe also created others that we are unaware of. Note that we could also combine this hypothesis with the previous one (i.e. a pre-universal mechanism that provides an allowable range of values), though it isn't necessary.

Dr. Craig's first objection to this hypothesis is that there is no evidence to support it. But as the reader will recall, Dr. Craig's main argument for *assuming* God was the ultimate cause of fine-tuning was that there was no other option. Since we have now postulated two plausible alternatives (in addition to others that may be beyond our comprehension), we can safely say that his argument is no longer conclusive.

His second objection is that if this hypothesis were true, then it would contradict our expectations with regard to other, far more probable events. He writes:

Roger Penrose has pressed this objection forcefully. He calculates that it is inconceivably more probable that our solar system should suddenly form by the random collision of particles than that a finely-tuned universe should exist...

...So if our universe were just a random member of a World Ensemble, it is incalculably more probable that we should be observing an orderly universe no larger than our solar system.

The source document here is "The Road to Reality" by Roger Penrose, page 764 (available for free online).

Here Dr. Craig seems to be under the illusion that if a galaxy can be formed from the collision of random particles, then so can a universe. But this would require postulating the existence of some sort of theoretical group of particles that exist outside of our universe, which Dr. Penrose clearly never references or talks about. And he certainly never directly implies anything about the chances of generating a galaxy-sized universe - he strictly only talks about the chances of generating a galaxy within our universe. So Dr. Craig's point about how probable it was that our universe should be the size that it is is actually unsupported by Dr. Penrose's observations.

Regardless, Dr. Craig makes many similar comments with respect to other fantastically improbable events. For example, he states that it is far more likely that a horse should pop into and out of existence than that our universe should be as finely tuned as it is.

Now if we consider such an event as the single roll of a metaphorical die, then the formation of a horse by the random collision of particles would be a far more probable event than obtaining a finely-tuned universe such as ours, assuming that there were no pre-universal mechanisms at work as was discussed earlier.

But now if we postulate an extraordinarily large number of universes, then obtaining a finely-tuned universe can become plausible again, whereas we still won't see horses popping into and out of existence because nothing has changed within our own (local) universe to increase the probability of such an unlikely event. Indeed, this was the whole point of the world ensemble hypothesis, which Dr. Craig seems to have forgotten. Thus the comparison is faulty, and the multiverse hypothesis still holds as a plausible alternative.

Dr. Craig makes a similar argument about "Boltzmann brains", which is the idea that it is far more likely that we experience life as the spontaneous formation of a brain in empty space by particles than as a human being in a universe as finely-tuned as ours. The interesting thing about this argument is that it assumes that humans are souls that choose where to incarnate - i.e. we randomly choose to exist either on Earth or in space.

But this is clearly an unproven assertion. Assuming that our experience stems from the existence of our minds, the question of probability becomes meaningless. If a child is born on Earth, that child will experience consciousness. There is no question of probability involved.

Recommended Ambient Music for Reading (Or as a Break)

Moral Values: The Mental Pillars of Society
Moral Values: The Mental Pillars of Society | Source

The Moral Argument Based upon Values and Duties

Before proceeding to the argument, a few basic definitions are provided.

Moral values refer to our sense of whether something is "good" or "bad" (which largely depend on our intrinsic feelings on a subject), so as a basic example we might take murder to be bad, while helping people in times of distress is good.

Moral duties refer to the obligations we might have in order to uphold our moral values; so if a person is going hungry on the street, one might argue that we are morally obligated to help that person in order to uphold the moral value of assisting others in times of distress (which is morally "good").

Within each of these categories, we can further define subjective and objective values or duties. Subjective means that something is dependent on our personal point of view, while objective means that it is true for everyone, regardless of their personal beliefs or values.

The simplified moral argument for God's existence then proceeds in the following way:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist

3. Therefore, God exists

Dr. Craig's supporting argument for the first premise is quoted below (this is the entirety of his support - I did not cut out any other sentences):

In a pluralistic age, people are afraid of imposing their values on someone else. So premise 1 seems correct to them.

The second premise is supported by another observation he makes:

At the same time, however, people do believe deeply that certain moral values and duties such as tolerance, open-mindedness, and love are objectively valid and binding. They think it’s objectively wrong to impose your values on someone else! So they’re deeply committed to premise 2 as well.

The conclusion follows by a logical negation of the first premise. We can see this by simplifying the first statement as:

1. If not A, then not B.

Where "A" refers to God existing, while "B" refers to the existence of objective moral values and duties. Note that only two possibilities exist for each letter / statement; i.e. either "A" or "not A", and similarly for B.

Thus we see that, if "B" is true, then "not B" is false. This directly implies that "not A" must be false, because if "not A" is true, then "not B" follows from the "then" implication. But if "not A" is false, this is the same thing as stating "A" is true.

In other words, if objective moral values exist, then God exists.

_______________________________________________________________

Let us consider the support for the first premise. We can see that this supporting argument is actually entirely based on people's opinions. To base the validity of a claim on what the majority believes is actually one of the most well-known logical fallacies, technically known as argumentum ad populum, or "appeal to the people" in Latin. This type of argument is thus inadmissable as a serious proof.

Now in Dr. Craig's support for his second premise, he is basically asserting that if people feel deeply about a moral value or duty being objective, then it really must be objective (or that it should be considered as a strong piece of supporting evidence).

But the usage of such an argument directly contradicts what Dr. Craig is stating in the outset. He initially defines objective moral values and duties as those that are independent of one's personal beliefs or emotional attachments. But he then states that if people feel strongly about a particular belief, then that qualifies as good evidence of that belief's objective nature! This is contradictory; by his own definition, subjective feelings or beliefs have nothing at all to do with their objective validity (assuming we can actually know whether a belief is objectively true, which is another problem).

Even if we ignore these definitions, we should realize that Dr. Craig is essentially making an emotional argument. Just as in the previous case, this is one of the most, if not *the* most well known logical fallacy in existence, and so it is slightly confusing as to why it is embraced so strongly by Dr. Craig and many other theists. There is no logical connection between how strongly one feels about something and the truth of that belief (this is the fallacy).

In addition, its unclear how "objective" truths could ever be established. We have no way of knowing whether we have 'transcended' our subjective mental states into some new state of morally perfect, objective clarity. In fact we don't even know if objective truths exist to begin with; none of this was ever proven by Dr. Craig.

For all these reasons, the first and second premises are unsupported, and the conclusion does not follow.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm looking divinely inspired
Anselm looking divinely inspired | Source

Plantinga's Ontological Argument

Finally we conclude this article with a variant of the ontological argument favoured by Dr. Craig; one reformulated by the American philosopher Alvin Plantinga. The original author of the ontological argument was St. Anselm, whose portrait is shown on the right.

This argument uses the concept of "possible worlds": Complete, hypothetical descriptions of reality that differ from ours by some arbitrary degree. Each "world" can be considered as the grouping of numerous propositions, such as the existence of certain laws of physics or historical events. But only certain propositions can change between each world; these are referred to as contingent propositions. The key property of contingent propositions is that it is logically possible for them to be false. For instance, one contingent proposition might be that in an alternate reality, oranges are a rare fruit that only grow high in the mountains.

By contrast, we also have necessary propositions, which means that they must be true in all possible worlds. For example, the proposition that square circles can not exist might be considered as a necessary proposition, because theoretically logical contradictions are impossible in all hypothetical worlds. In this case I think people do have a cause to question such a claim, but at the same time for practical purposes we must axiomatically assume the validity of logic in order to make any kind of progress in any field. Thus I will take this proposition to be true in the same sense that we trust our memories to be valid and correct descriptions of the past (at least in the short-term).

Lastly, this argument defines God in a special way. As described by Dr. Craig:

In his version of the argument, Plantinga conceives of God as a being that is “maximally excellent” in every possible world. Plantinga takes maximal excellence to include such properties as omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. A being that has maximal excellence in every possible world would have what Plantinga calls “maximal greatness".

Platinga's argument is then presented in the following way:

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

It is helpful to review the argument before proceeding.

The first premise is the main supposition (or assumption) in this argument. Following this, we see that according to the "possible world" semantics, if a maximally great being is possible, then we could posit its existence in a hypothetical reality, also called a "possible world" - which is premise 2.

Since it "exists" in one possible world, from the definition of "maximally great" it should be maximally excellent in every possible world. Since it can not be maximally excellent and non-existent at the same time, it follows that this being exists in every possible world, including the "actual world" that we inhabit. This covers premises 3 and 4.

But if this maximally great being exists in the actual world, it is no longer a hypothetical entity; it actually exists (in our reality). Therefore the argument concludes that a maximally great being (called God) exists.

_______________________________________________________________

At its heart, this argument is actually extremely simple. It begins by defining a being which is so powerful that, if it can hypothetically exist, then it inhabits every logically possible reality. Then it states, lets suppose such a being is hypothetically possible. Then by definition, it exists in every possible reality, including our own.

Of course, the main counter-argument is to question whether such a being is actually possible. Could we not easily suggest that it is fundamentally not possible for a being to have the property that its hypothetical existence implies its necessary existence in all possible worlds? It may turn out that such a being can have a property, or it may turn out that it can't. Since we have no evidence pointing in either direction, even if we assume both propositions are logically possible, we have no good reason to assume one over the other.

But is this proposition even logically consistent? If this being's necessity is contingent on its possibility, and its possibility is not necessary (since its an open question, we can assume its not), then logically the being itself is not necessary.

Therefore even if it were possible, we would observe a contradiction, because if it possibly exists then by Plantinga's definition, it should necessarily exist (or equivalently in possible worlds semantics, it should exist in all possible worlds). But it can't necessarily exist, because its necessity is contingent on its possibility, which is not necessary. Therefore we have a logical contradiction. Note that something can only be either necessary or not necessary; there are no options 'in between' here. To prove that Plantinga's God is necessary, it must not be dependent on any preconditions including but not limited to its possibility.

_______________________________________________________________

Finally, as an intuitive consideration, we should note that if such a God exists, then no conceivable reality devoid of God is possible. Although intuitive considerations shouldn't hold much validity in this discussion, the fact is, Plantinga never treated his argument as being a completely rigorous proof, but only as an argument for the probable existence of God based on the intuitive plausibility of supposing that his God was hypothetically possible.

But even as an intuitive argument we see that it meets with considerable problems. If this God exists, then that is logically equivalent to stating that a the possible world of nothing but an empty void is metaphysically impossible - to be clear, it is not even *possible* for such a reality to come into existence. Moreover, every conceivable reality devoid of God suddenly becomes impossible. Is this a reasonable intuitive belief? Or is it more reasonable to conclude that beings can't force themselves to exist into the entire span of conceivable realities?

Altogether we see that this argument is insufficient and fairly contradictory as a proof (or a plausible intuitive argument) for God's existence.

_______________________________________________________________

I hope you enjoyed reading through this hub, and that it has helped you understand the issues more clearly. Hopefully I have made a positive and civil impression, though sometimes its not always easy when criticizing the ideas of others!

If you have any questions for me, please post them below and I'll be happy to answer. I hope that one day I might be able to present these arguments more formally and have them tested against other academics to see how convincing they truly are.

~ Thanks for reading, and have a nice day! ~

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