Sunday, 14 October 2012

William Lane Craig Cosmological Fallacy

In his debate with Hitchens, Craig presents three arguments for the existence of God. In this post, I will deal with the first argument; the Cosmological Argument. This is written in response to a twitter user named @kipkenyan.

Note that I'm not addressing any arguments made by Hitchens, nor any replies by Craig. I'm simply attacking his opening argument.

A) Craig's Strawman

Craig opens up with the question of "why anything at all exists". He claims this question is the most profound question in philosophy. He then commits a fashionable Strawman by asserting that "typically atheists have answered this question by saying the Universe is eternal and uncaused". This is of course untrue. Atheists don't typically claim to know where the Universe came from or what caused it. They simply reject the position that it was caused by a god. Many atheists don't even bother with this question at all. They simply go about their lives without believing that there is a god. Those who do ponder the question often leave it for the scientists to answer. And so it should be. The sheer fact that I don't believe in a god doesn't qualify me in the field of physics or cosmology. I'm therefore in no position, and under no obligation, to answer such questions. Curiously, if theist arguments are anything to go by, theists think that believing in a god magically makes them qualified in the above fields. While this little Strawman of Craig's raises an interesting point about his integrity (or his knowledge about what atheism actually is), I will not spend any more time on that. It's not particularly relevant to Craig's Cosmological argument itself.

B) The question REMAINS unanswered

The second interesting point to make is that the question of "why is there anything rather than nothing" cannot possibly be answered with "god". The reason is that "god" is PART OF "everything". In other words, when we ask "why is there anything rather than nothing?", that question (if it's to mean anything) must refer to the entire set of things that exist (SOTTE from now on - see note 1 below) - everything that exists. If a god and a single universe exist, the question is "why is there a god and universe as opposed to there being no god and no universe?". If a god and a number (say, X) of universes exist, the question is "why is there a god and X universes as opposed to nothing?". If no god exists and the universe is uncaused, the question is "why is there a universe rather than nothing?". If no god exists and the universe is caused by a single cause (which, like the hypothetical god, is uncaused) then the question would be "why is there a universe and a single uncaused cause?". I could go on longer with more conceivable permutations but I think the point has been made. "God" doesn't answer the question of why there's anything as opposed to nothing. God is simply a bandaid to relieve immediate bleeding.

So, if I were to ask a theist "why is there a universe plus god as opposed to no universe and no god?", I'd likely get the following answer:

"The universe exists because God has created it and God Himself is uncaused".

That's very nice but it necessarily entails some serious special pleading. If the theist is willing to concede that an uncaused entity (in this case God) can exist, how can the theist exclude that the Universe itself (in this case when I say "Universe" I mean the Singularity) was uncaused or (if the Singularity itself does have a cause) that the Universe (again, in the broader sense that includes the Singularity) had a non-god cause that itself was uncaused?

I have asked theists this question before and have received answers along the following lines:

"God can exists uncaused because that's what God is by definition. Nothing else can".

The above is, of course, a copout. It's dishonest. It's special pleading. We DON'T KNOW what attributes God has because there's no evidence that a god exists in the first place. Theists have invented a god (without any evidence) to fill this precise gap.

But why did they give this entity the attributes of intelligence and sentience? There are a number of answers to this question. These include the "complex (fine-tuned) nature of the Universe" and the existence of intelligent life in it. Each of those arguments is easily refutable. However, since Craig does not rely on either of them in his opening statement of the Hitch debate, I don't intend to argue them at this juncture.

The only point I wish to make at this time is that God is not an answer to the question of "why there is something rather than nothing".

Note 1: I originally used the term "Cosmos" to denote "everything that exist, including a god if one exists". It was not the appropriate word, as @scotsmanmatt has pointed out. He's correct to the extent that theologians define "cosmos" to exclude the Creator but include the Universe. That said, as long as I made my meaning clear (which I surely did), there ought to be no dispute about it. It's the concept that matters on not the tag you give it. Evidently, @scotsmanmatt couldn't find anything of substance to pick on.

C) Craig's argument itself goes as follows:

1. The Universe is not eternal. It had a beginning 13.7 billion years ago, when it started from a Singularity.

My comment:

Yes, it's certainly true that the Unvierse AS WE KNOW IT began in a Big Bang, some 13.7 billion years ago. Of course, we don't know what (if anything) caused it. It's the proponent who must prove that the Universe was caused by god.

2. An atheist who accepts the Big Bang would have to believe that the Universe came from nothing and by nothing (Craig's words).

My comment:

No, that's not true. We simply don't know what the Universe came form and "by what". Indeed, it's the theists who suggest that the Universe came from nothing. They posit that God created matter and energy OUT OF NOTHING. Atheists generally don't take a firm view on this question. Scientists believe that the Singularity contained (in very small space, some would say infinitely small) all the matter and energy that exists today (possibly even more as some scientists posit that 90+% of initial matter and energy cancelled each other out and what remains is but a small fraction). We don't know what (if anything) caused the singularity itself. There are a number of hypotheses advanced by a number of scientists. It may well be that we'll never be able to find out.

The bottom line is that atheists don't at all claim that the Universe came from nothing. Most simply say that they don't know what (if anything) caused the Singularity. This demonstrates yet another Strawman by Mr Craig.

Not only is it a Strawman; it's also comical. Craig claims that nothing can come from nothing and yet he himself proposes a god who creates matter and energy guessed it...NOTHING. What does that explain? Yes, you guessed it again, NOTHING. But more on this a little later.

3. Since it doesn't make sense that the Universe came from nothing, there must be a cause that brought the Universe into being.

My comment:

Let's grant Craig this, for the sake of the argument. Let's agree that there must have been a cause that brought the Universe into being.

4. The cause (let's call it FC from now on; First Cause) must have been a timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of unphathomable power.

My comment:

a) The FC was timeless

Craig doesn't define this word. Just what does "timeless" mean? What is time? Essentially, time is the rate at which things happen. In order for time to exist, there must be different states of affairs connected causally. For instance, take cold water. The water is in a pot and heat is acting upon it. The water becomes boiling water. Its energy properties have changed. One state of affairs has changed into another state of affairs. This change denotes that there must be TIME. Time is the measure of the rate at which this process has taken place. Whenever things happen, there is some type of time.

Another example would be a thought process. Imagine a mind that makes a decision, for instance a decision to create a universe. There must be a state of affairs where the mind exists but there is no decision to create a universe. There must also be an action in the mind (a thought) that results in the decision to make a universe. Then there must be a state of affairs in which there exists a (made by this mind) decision to create a universe. A being who makes this decision cannot be a timeless being because there have been at least two different states of affairs involving that being. There has been a change. There must have been some type of time. The alternative would mean that the decision existed while not existing and this of course is a logical contradiction.

How then could FC be timeless? There seem to be only two possible ways:

i) the being did not engage in any cause-effect activity at all until its decision (or action) of creating the Universe. This means that the being could not think, plan, or even exist in any meaningful way. Such a being would be DORMANT, HIBERNATING. It would have to "wake up" without a cause and then decide to create the Universe.

But a being who creates the Universe WITHOUT A CAUSE (such as a thought process, decision-making etc) is not a being that needs to be sentient or intelligent. It's as good as a random generation of the Universe.

What about a being who "wakes up" from eternal (or "timeless") hibernation to start a process of thinking which results in a decision to create? Does that alleviate the above problem? No. For all intents and purposes, the being was without existence (functionless) until it "woke up". It woke up with a full set of faculties to engage in the process of creation. If such a being can wake up spontaneously, why can't the Universe (or some non-sentient precursor of it) come into existence spontaneously? Of course it can. To say otherwise would be to engage in special pleading.

But that's not the only problem here. Perhaps a bigger problem is that a being who was hybernating and woke up to engage in a thought process is no longer a timeless being for our purposes. Commencing with the state of affairs in which it wakes up and moving on to all other states of affairs causally flowing from that state of affairs, the entity is subject to some type of time. We have a change between states of affairs and that change moves in one direction only.

Thus, a timeless creator is a creator who has idled away (without even knowing of its own existence; awareness requires thought and that's a process which gives rise to causative time) and uncausedly sprung into action. Such a creator is no better an explanation than a random, uncaused generation of the Universe (or a of a non-sentient cause of it) in the first place. In fact, the latter is more economical as it doesn't require intelligence and sentience. Occam kills God.

ii) Logical contradiction. The second conceivable way in which FC could be timeless is via a logical contradiction. Thus, we'd be saying that logic doesn't bind the entity in question (indeed, theists sometimes do posit that God isn't limited by logic). In this way, we could say that the decision to make the Universe existed simultaneously with it not-existing. Note that I'm not particularly interested in arguing about whether logic is truly universal (and applies to god) or not. The point is moot. Why? Because if the laws of logic did not apply to FC then there's no basis to say anything about the FC. The FC could create the Universe while not creating the Universe. Indeed, FC could exist while not existing. To go further, if the laws of logic don't apply outside the Universe then there's no requirement that the Universe have a cause at all. By abandoning logic, we abandon any and all ability to say anything meaningful about the First Cause (including "it exists").

The conclusion here is that a timeless FC is either one that would be no better an explanation than a random creation of the Universe OR one that would have to defy logic and thereby obliterate any ability for discourse.

b) Spaceless

My comment:

I don't take issue with Craig's claim that the FC must have been spaceless. Assuming that no space at all exists outside our Universe, that assertion is true. In any event, let's grant it to Craig.

c). Non-material

Craig claims that the Cause of the Universe must have been immaterial. This is, of course, because the Universe is said to contain all matter and energy that exists.

My comment:

While it is true that (given the assumption above) the Cause of the Universe must have been immaterial (in the "non-material" sense; the choice of words was Crag's, not mine!), it also must have been something that is capable of INTERACTING with matter, right down to the point of creating the same (either from nothing or from some other pre-existing "substance").

What kinds of things are there that are immaterial but are capable of interacting with matter, to the point of creating the same ex nihilo? For my part, I don't know. I have no idea. Us humans have never experienced energy-matter (we know now that the two are interchangeable and I'll use the two words interchangeably) being created out of nothing and we are in no position to comment what type of entity could achieve such a task.

What entity does Craig propose? He proposes a mind! Now, I wonder what minds Craig has been dealing with. Clearly they can't be the same types of minds that are known to humanity. We don't know of any minds that can at all interact (without being in control of a physical body, that is) with energy-matter, let alone create the same out of nothing!

"Ah-huh", I can hear a retort, "but this is a special kind of mind. One of its kind. It's GOD'S mind".

Let's remember this when we get to the gist of my attack of Craig's argument (yes, the gist is coming soon)

d) Of unfathomable power

My comment:

Well yes, in the sense that the Cause is capable of creating an entire universe, its power (power to react with or create matter) is truly unfathomable, at least given our current knowledge of the world.

D) Craig's conclusion

What does Craig conclude from the above? Here it comes:

"There are only two kinds of things that meet this description: either an abstract object like numbers or a personal mind. Abstract objects can't do anything. That leaves a mind. A personal creator."

This is it folks! This is Craig's cosmological argument. But hang on a minute! This can't be right! Just how does a mind meet "this description"?

[1] Timeless mind?

Is a mind timeless? No, not any minds that we have ever heard of.

Indeed, the only minds we know of happen to process information by thinking about it. One thought leads to the next in a long series of thoughts. This is activity and it's a cause-effect process and it denotes time. No mind that we know of can be timeless. In fact, if a mind were timeless, it would have to be dormant and therefore would be incapable of doing the one thing that minds do: thinking.

[2] Immaterial mind?

Can a mind be immaterial? Again, we don't know of any minds that can exist without a body. Despite the large numbers of claims about ghosts, there is not a single confirmed sighting, let alone any empirical evidence of a ghost having a sentient and intelligent mind (as opposed to being a semi-transparent apparition of sorts). Intelligent and sentient minds are something that we know of as a product of a physical brain. Despite many attempts, there has never been any study that would successfully demonstrate that dualism is true.

[3] Spaceless mind?

What about "spaceless"? Are minds spaceless? Now, that might be true, in the sense that the mind is the PROCESS of thought, knowledge and experience. The mind itself is not the material body (brain) that it is based in. But can a mind exist in a spaceless state of affairs? Again, not if we mean any type of minds that we have had an opportunity to deal with or observe.

[4] Mind of unfathomable power?

What about minds who have unfathomable power? Remember, in this context, "unfathomable power" must mean that the entity in question is capable of creating an entire Universe. The "power" in this context is not referring to "processing power" (aka intelligence). Why not? Because there's nothing in Craig's argument that demands that the First Cause have intelligence in the first place. Craig is not running a "fine-tuning" argument here. But even if he were, this wouldn't help him, for reasons that I will not go into here (but will touch upon it further down).

E) Craig's conclusion FAILS.

So, Craig has given us a list of things that he claims meet the criteria required by the First Cause. The list is populated by two things: abstract concepts such as numbers and a personal mind. I'm not going to address abstract concepts at any length. Let's stick to minds. Of the four attributes (timeless, immaterial, spaceless, of unfathomable power) of the FC, minds (as we know them) possess precisely zero.

Not only do none of the attributes of the FC outlined by Craig exist in a mind, but the FC lacks (on Craig's argument) the only attributes that do define a mind. A timeless or immaterial or spaceless or very powerful mind could exist in principle. But it won't be a mind unless it is sentient (at least) and intelligent (preferably, one might think). But none of these attributes are necessary for the FC to possess, on Craig's argument.

Thus, both of the following are true:

- The argued First Cause's necessary attributes lack all attributes of minds;


- The mind's known attributes lack all argued attributes of the First Cause.

What follows is that there's no basis whatsoever to claim that the First Cause was a mind (aka Personal Creator).

F) Some special pleading

Of course, one can argue that the Mind in question is unlike all known minds. It transcends the limitations that minds within the Universe are subject to. It's truly special. It therefore IS timeless, spaceless, immaterial and capable of creating matter out of thin nothing.

The problem here is that, since we're willing to conjure up a mind that has nothing in common with what we mean by "mind", one that doesn't need to have intelligence or sentience and one that has four un-mind-like attributes, we are engaging in special pleading that is nothing short of monumental.

What's then to stop us from doing special pleading in the other direction? Why can't we just posit a special, non-intelligent non-sentient FC? Something like the claimed god but which lacks intelligence and sentience. It has the "physical" ability to create the Universe. It's timeless and therefore the action of creating the Universe is random and uncaused (just as the claimed God's "waking up" would have to be). Indeed, such a solution would be more economical than the claimed God. It would not have to possess two redundant attributes; intelligence and sentience.

A further problem with this special pleading is that it involves double-standards in the application of empirical knowledge. On the one hand, Craig attempts to invoke "the mind" on the basis of the types of entities that we know of (otherwise, he wouldn't be claiming that there are only two options; mind and abstract numbers; instead he would simply agree with us atheists in saying that we don't know what caused the Big Bang, if anything). On the other hand, he attempts to resolve the problem by invoking a thing that we don't know of; a mind that doesn't need any of the usual characteristics of a mind and that has four characteristics not possessed by any known mind. He might as well say "I propose a weird invisible flying giraffe who likes to dance Can-Can".

G) Fine-tuning objections

While Craig did not argue fine-tuning (or the complexity of the Universe) in this opening statement, I feel that this is the most likely objection and I feel obliged to address it in advance. The theist counter-argument on this basis would run like this:

"The Universe is unique, it is organised, complex and fine-tuned for life so the FC must have been intelligent and sentient"

In this argument, intelligence and sentience are invoked to solve a particular problem: Planning and Design of the Universe. The issue is not with the "physical" act of creating it. That act, in itself a complete mystery to us, only requires an entity that is "physically" capable of creating energy-matter out of nothing. It does not require intelligence. For example, imagine a non-sentient precursor (FC) which (like god) is uncaused and has only one property: it will create the Universe out of nothing. There's nothing wrong with this proposition. The difficulty lies in the design of the "complex" and "fine-tuned" Universe.

Now, is intelligence and sentience necessary to create the Universe with all its "complexity" and "fine-tuning"? I put these in quotation marks for a reason; I'm not conceding complexity or fine-tuning generally. I am, however, prepared to concede them for the time-being, just for the sake of this argument.

The answer is "No, not unless we first establish that there was a plan!"

But let's not dwell on that point as it in itself is grounds for an entire debate. Instead, let's focus on God. Whether or not intelligence is required to come up with the plan/design of the Universe (as a "complex and fine-tuned" entity), God fails to assist us here. Let's illustrate it by considering an essential attribute of God's; omniscience.

If God knows everything at all times then God (being uncaused, as per Craig's own argument above) must at all times have possessed the detailed knowledge of how to design and put into effect the Universe and that knowledge is in itself uncasued. An omniscient God can't have used his intelligence (if He has any) to design/plan the Universe. If you were born with the knowledge that on 24 December 2012 you will create a buildng AND with the knowledge of every detailed aspect of its design as well as how you will go about putting it together then you can't be said to have used your mind in creating the project. The project existed in your mind since birth; uncaused.

What follows is that by proposing an omniscient god, we throw the requirement of intelligence out the window.

Can we then propose a not-so-omniscient god? Well, I guess we can keep proposing all sorts of entities to close our GAP IN KNOWLEDGE. We can work hard on fine-tuning our god to help him fine-tune the Universe. We can use brute force if we have to. But we will still fail to answer Craig's opening question: why is there a [universe-wanting, very clever, very powerful and sentient god plus a universe] rather than nothing?


Craig's argument fails on a number of levels. Apart from engaging in two embarrassing Strawman claims, Craig proposes an FC with not a single attribute of a "mind" and then falsely claims that "only a mind can have these attributes". Furthermore, Craig's mind (to be a mind at all) must have attributes that the arguable FC doesn't need to have.

We don't have a proof for a god. What we do have is just another desperate attempt to prove that which could never (so far) be proven and to justify someone writing a book.


Comments are welcome,





  1. Hey,
    This is Jared with Conversion Radio.
    During our discussion you shot me this link and impugned Craig's character on the count, that he is speaking to a lay audience and is deliberately being dishonest.

    I disagreed with this and your first detail and retort to Craig's argument is a clear example of this.

    Craig is NOT saying the average lay atheist. He is not saying the common atheist would say anything of the sort. He is speaking to strictly the scholars of atheism.

    Since Aristotle, steady state cosmology has been used to refute theism, as theism asserts a creation concept. Steady state cosmology = eternal universe btw.

    Most recently in Craig's contemporaries on the atheist view, utilize steady state cosmological evidences to invalidate theism. In modern atheism within academic circles, Hoyles theory took hold.

    When Craig makes the statement "typically atheists have answered this question by saying the Universe is eternal and uncaused" he is absolutely correct. Also realize his entire overarching argument is a cosmological one for creation.

    And again, he is speaking of scholars within the relevant discussion. Here is a link to bring you up to speed and hopefully relax your vehemence against Craig's character.

  2. Scholars of atheism? There's no such thing. Atheism is not a scientific discipline. Neither is it something that can really be studied. Sure, you can study trends amongst atheists or different positions under the umbrella of atheism. But atheism does not have anything to do with cosmology. This is something theists just simply fail to understand. Let me put it like this:

    1. Theists think that just because they've invented an omnipotent spirit (what in the world is a spirit anyway?) who created the Universe, they become experts on cosmology. This is absolute nonsense.

    2. Atheists don't have such pretences. We don't believe in a god because we see no evidence that a god exists. We don't pretend to be cosmologists.

    Cosmology is a scientific field. Neither believing nor non-believing in a god magically qualifies one as an expert. There are no scholars of atheism.

    What's more, Craig NEVER SAID "Scholars of atheism". He said "the atheist".

    Finally, you're addressing a side-point, something I said in passing, something that isn't even relevant to my actual argument.

    I'm familiar with your link and this simply doesn't assist your case at all. If you have an answer to my objection (please re-read the post carefully; I'm a little put-off by your complete failure to address it), please feel free to provide it.

  3. What's more, let me quote from your own source's conclusion:

    "From a historical point of view, there has been little correlation between religious views of scientific cosmologists and their proposed cosmological models. From a epistemological point of view, there are numerous obstacles to claiming that the big bang confirms the hypothesis that God exists. And from a metaphysical point of view, God's hand is not manifest even in big bang models: these models have no first state for God to create, and these models have no time for God to exist in before the big bang."

    Thus, not only have you used a source that fails to address my argument; you have used a source that concludes that Big Bang Cosmology does not a proper basis for claiming that a God (in the sense of an intelligent, sentient and personal being) exists. Why would you use a source that discredits your own hypothesis?

  4. Lane Craig's KCA is of course simply an attempt to beg the question and rig it so the only possible answer is his particular god, at least in the minds of his target audience. He does this with the subtle ploy of relying on the parochial ignorance of cultural arrogance of his target audience who won't question his implied claim that the only uncaused thing will be the locally popular god, the Christian god he is spinning.

    Of course, to do this, he must never say how he examined all things to determine which should be in his implied set of things which don't begin to exist and which shouldn't. The question of whether a natural process can be included in this set is never asked or answered because that would give the game away and expose the trick.

    Thus he arrives at a question which he has rigged by including only the required answer a priori. You can try this for yourself by assuming something else is uncause, allowing only that to occupy your set of things which are uncaused and applying Lane Craig's 'logic' to prove it cause the Universe. My favourite is a peanut butter sandwich; others may prefer a chocolate teapot or a Spaghetti Monster.

    In effect, Lane Craig's KCA, if he actually believes it, is nothing more than the assertion that his god exists because he believes it does.