Saturday, July 3, 2010

Kalamity Strikes

I'm back again to continue my discussion of William Lane Craig's Five Arguments for God. You can find the full article here . This time I'll be looking at Craig's second argument, The Cosmological Kalam argument.

The play on the words kalam and calamity that I use in my title was first brought to my attention in Dan Barker's Godless. Dan, for those of you that might not know, is a former evangelical preacher turned atheist. He is currently co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and I encourage you to check out their website . Dan gives a thorough treatment of the kalam argument, and I will be following closely in his footsteps here.

The kalam argument is typically stated as follows:
1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause
2) The universe began to exist
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

Now, many of you have probably already noticed something curious about this argument. It makes no mention of god, capital G or otherwise. As an argument for god, it fails at the outset, no discussion needed. The best it can hope for is to show that the universe had a cause. Craig seems to be aware of this and does make some attempts to show this cause is plausibly god. We'll get to this later.

The first premise seems strange. It appears to accord with common sense, and this is how Craig hopes to win agreement: by saying it is plausible and hoping no one studies it further. He asserts that the premise is a necessary truth and expects that to be the end of things. Unfortunately, I'm not so easily persuaded. Asserting that something is a necessary truth and establishing that it is are two very different things.

In this case, we actually have some reason to believe that it is not a necessary truth. Quantum physics allows for uncaused effects. Craig has been made aware of this before and countered by asserting that they are only seemingly uncaused because we do not know the cause. This does nothing to dismiss the problem. If we do not know the cause, how does Craig know there is one? The simple answer is he doesn't, he simply assumes there is because his argument depends on it.

Craig makes an attempt to shift scrutiny by asking why everything does no begin to exist uncaused. This points to an inability to properly defend his premise (because of the problem I noted above). The question, though, is irrelevant to the possibility of uncaused beginnings.

A further issue with the first premise is its implicit attempt to divide everything into two sets much in the same way necessity/contingency did. In this case, the categories are entities that began to exist and those that did not. (Barker used the abbreviations BE and NBE in his discussion; I will use the same convention.) Once again, Craig provides us with no argument for the existence of these two sets, he simply expects us to accept them.

What, though, is an NBE? Aside, from the god Craig is attempting to prove, what are examples of actual (as opposed to conceptual) NBE? There isn't one. In fact, for this argument to have any thrust in the direction Craig wishes to take it, this must be the case: god must be the only NBE. Sadly, that reduces NBE & BE to synonyms for god and 'not god' respectively and that causes all manner of problems. The worst of which is that it insists we assume the existence of god, making this whole argument an exercise in question begging.

The second premise turns out to be just as bad as the first. Once again, Craig falls into equivocation when he uses the word 'universe.' When he claims that scientific evidence supports the universe having a cause, he means universe in the cosmological sense, but hopes to get agreement for the philosophical sense. Once this sleight of hand is exposed, the implications of scientific findings are much less staggering than Craig would have us believe.

Craig also tells us that a beginning is supported by philosophical argument. The problem with this statement is that so is the existence of god. It just so happens that the arguments that support god are horribly flawed. The arguments that support a beginning may be equally as flawed. Since Craig does not present them, it is not our responsibility to make that determination. However, if these arguments are solid, they may present serious problems for Craig's god.

(This tactic, of stating something that is trivially true in a misleading way, is prevalent enough that I feel an aside is necessary. When looking at statements of facts and statistics, especially in politics, we must be cautious in our evaluation. For example, I once read a statement that said "It is a verifiable fact that no atheist organization voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act." What it fails to mention is that organizations do not vote, individuals do. Even if every member of an organization votes in favor of some measure or another, it is trivially true that the organization itself does not.)

When it comes to the science, Craig attempts a bit of trickery. He first mentions alternative hypotheses to the Big Bang, but does not list any. This is crucial because as well as truly alternative hypotheses, there are also supplemental ones. Craig is attempting to covertly dismiss both of them.

His reference to the Vilenkin paper is another bit of misinformation. Though they have been brought to his attention before, Craig does not feel the need to mention the scientific papers that show the work of Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin is compatible with an unbounded dimension of time.

Craig also feels the need to throw out the old canard about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Craig, like most apologetic that use this, neglects the part where it says in a closed system. At least a few physicists and cosmologist question whether or not the universe can be defined as a closed system. He also fails to note that, because of its expansion, some have presented scenarios in which the universe has reached maximal entropy and entropy is still increasing. Since I am not a physicist by trade, I will not go into detail. Those of you interested in the topic can check out the popular works of Victor Stenger for an introduction to the subject.

Now we come to the conclusion and Craig realizes that it hasn't said anything about god. Not content with this, he attempts to show that god is a plausible cause. As I said before, that he is aiming for the easier mark of plausible should tell us something.

Since the kalam argument is so miserable, and since much of Craig's attempt at plausibility rests on his other arguments, I'll only mention here the contradiction he raises when speaking of a personal cause. Craig says that, if the cause is infinite, but its effect happened a finite amount of time ago, it stands to reason that a personal force must have chosen that moment to cause the effect. Essentially, he is saying that the effect could have happened earlier, but it did not, so personal choice is the reason. Assumptions aside, what he forgets is that elsewhere he has asserted that time began with the Big Bang, and this sinks his ship. If time began at the Big Bang, which Craig asserts is also the beginning of the (cosmological) universe, then the effect happened at the earliest possible time.

Because of the amount of errors that Craig packs into such a small space, I haven't covered all the problems here. I suggest checking out the previously mentioned Godless by Dan Barker and Victor Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis for more information.

In my next installment, I'll be taking on Craig's Argument from Not Wanting to be a Nazi.

No comments:

Post a Comment