Thursday, October 08, 2009

Carbonman's Critique of Craig's Kalam Argument

In ordinary contexts, pretty clearly, we don't countenance the possibility that something could come into existence without a cause. For example, if you and I were eating lunch, and a bunny rabbit were suddenly to appear munching on your salad, you would rightly dismiss the possibility that it popped into existence without a cause. So we need some justification for why, in this instance, we are going to want to admit a causeless beginning of the universe.




Craig does offer arguments that a personal agent was the cause of the beginning of the universe, but he doesn't say his argument proves that it is the Christian God. He got the argument from Islamic philosophers to begin with, so he knows better than that. He admits that he needs other arguments to get to Christian theism. Something powerful enough to bring a universe into existence caused the universe to exist, assuming you accept a caused beginning of the universe.



Now people have offered reasons for why an uncaused beginning is acceptable while an uncaused bunny rabbit is not, and that has to do with the fact that the BBT says there was no time before the beginning, and that Craig's causal principle need only apply if there was a prior time. So, the bunny rabbit needs a cause, since there was a time when it was not in existence and then it began to exist. But when there was no time prior to the existence of the universe, the causal requirement doesn't apply. This is a more serious objection than that which you have provided, however.



You should also note that plenty of people have challenged Craig, and he has responded to those objections. People like J. L. Mackie, Quentin Smith, Keith Parsons, Douglas Jesseph, and Wes Morriston have written objections, and these objection have been countered by Craig and his defenders, and you can't really get a sense of where the whole discussion is unless you look at how the debate has proceeded. Your responses, I am afraid, are re-inventions of the wheel.

28 comments:

MC said...

Of all his interlocutors, Craig has responded least adequately (if at all) to Wes Morriston's strongest arguments against the soundness of the KCA.

Craig is staggeringly comprehensive such that he nearly always has a response to all of his objectors (adequate or not), and it makes it only more conspicuous that Craig has failed to even address--in places where it would be glaringly appropriate to do so--some of Morriston's most powerful arguments against the KCA.

Anonymous said...

You can see some of Craig's replies to Morriston over on Craig's website. I think you may need to have an account to use the search engine, but it's free.

exapologist said...

Does Craig reply to Morriston's criticisms re: the existence and traversability of actual infinites? If you could point me to the books or papers and the page numbers, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Last I checked, he's replied to Morriston re: the causal premise, the a posteriori arguments for a finite past, and the inference to an agent cause, but not to the stuff on the existence and traversability of actual infinites. But of course if Craig's wrong on the latter, the jig's pretty much up.

Anonymous said...

Craig gets into traversing infinites and the existence of actual infinites on his site. Go through the Q&A, or google 'traverse' and otherwise to turn up some of those responses.

Anonymous said...

Pardon, not 'google'. I mean search on his reasonablefaith.org site.

Victor Reppert said...

XA: Last I checked, he's replied to Morriston re: the causal premise, the a posteriori arguments for a finite past, and the inference to an agent cause, but not to the stuff on the existence and traversability of actual infinites. But of course if Craig's wrong on the latter, the jig's pretty much up.


VR: Well, even if the actual infinite stuff doesn't work, you still have the scientific defense of a temporal beginning.

exapologist said...

Thanks for the reference, Anon.

I did as you said and typed in "traverse" in the search box at his site. I got the following two links:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5174

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5732

The first one doesn't address Morriston's criticisms.

In the second one, the questioner mentions one of Morriston's criticisms, in hopes that Craig will answer it. But if you read Craig's reply, you'll notice that he fails to actually address Morriston's criticisms(!). So I guess I'm still left looking for Craig's reply.

Here are links to some of Morrison's criticisms of Craig's arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites, if anyone's interested in learning what they actually are.

exapologist said...

Yes, but that only shows that our universe had a beginning, which is compatible with physical antecedents to our universe -- even an actually infinite series of such antecedents. That's why the philosophical arguments are so crucial to Craig's case.

Anonymous said...

No prob, ex. You can find more if you punch in "morriston" in the search. I disagree that the second link doesn't address Morriston's criticisms, but maybe you'll find more on the site. He has a lot of content there - and if nothing else, you can always write in and ask.

Morriston and Craig also had a discussion devoted entirely to the cosmological argument earlier this year. To be fair, Morriston's pretty candid about saying he didn't he did so well in that exchange, though he certainly didn't give up his view.

Anonymous said...

That would depend on what "Craig's Case" is, really. Simply establishing that our universe had a beginning is one part of Craig's case, and establishing that alone knocks some serious wind out of atheist sails. Even if Craig doesn't absolutely prove God's existence, raising the plausibility of a theistic/non-naturalist (does that word mean anything anymore?) explanation is also in play. And Morriston apparently is not even attempting to establish that the past is actually infinite, just that such is possible.

If someone gives an argument that doesn't establish the logical necessity of their claim, but does increase the credence of their claim being true, I'm not sure that would be called a horrible failure.

exapologist said...

Hi Anon,

Hmm. Which reply did Craig address in that second link, and which part of Craig's remarks actually addressed it? I'm afraid I was unable to find anything in the link on that head. Perhaps, though, you wouldn't mind setting me straight? If so, I'd greatly appreciate it.

By the way, it's been a good long while since the dialogue between Craig and Morriston occurred, and it has yet to see the light of day. Does anyone have the transcript, at least?

exapologist said...

That would depend on what "Craig's Case" is, really. Simply establishing that our universe had a beginning is one part of Craig's case, and establishing that alone knocks some serious wind out of atheist sails.

Establishing the beginning of our universe pretty much establishes nothing beyond the fact that the universe had a beginning. What piece of evidence makes it even just a tad more likely that the cause of the beginning of our universe is an immaterial agent cause rather than physical antecedents?

Morriston apparently is not even attempting to establish that the past is actually infinite, just that such is possible.

Right. That's the point. Craig's philosophical arguments fail to show that a beginningless past is impossible. It's not as if Craig's arguments failed to show this, they could nonetheless function as probabilistic arguments for a finite past, anymore than the logical problem of evil would still make the non-existence of god probable even in the face of Plantinga's free will defense.

If someone gives an argument that doesn't establish the logical necessity of their claim, but does increase the credence of their claim being true, I'm not sure that would be called a horrible failure.

That's certainly true. But the problem is that Craig's arguments fail to do this. Again, it's not as though his arguments, if they fail, make it probable that physical reality has a finite past.

exapologist said...

I went to search the Reasonable Faith site again, this time following your latest suggestion to type in "Morriston". As I suspected, the links only address the things I mentioned in my first comment in this thread: stuff on the causal premise, the a posteriori arguments, and the inference to an immaterial agent. In other words, they don't address Morriston's criticisms of Craig's arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites.

So again, I guess I'm still waiting for Craig to reply to Morriston's arguments here. Morriston's criticisims have been in the journals for a decade now, and still no reply from Craig. The defeaters are still firmly lodged in the argument, in which case it remains defeated.

Crude said...

Yo. Gonna throw some comments in here.

"Establishing the beginning of our universe pretty much establishes nothing beyond the fact that the universe had a beginning."

Establishing that alone is a watershed event. Standard atheism/naturalism had always embraced the "eternal universe" option for a number of reasons (a created and finite universe fit better with western religion, that anything that could give rise to our universe would be supernatural by definition regardless of 'personal' nature, etc). Merely increasing the credence for such a thing was and is a big deal. Pretending otherwise is like arguing... "Well, fine, you've demonstrated an ex nihilo creation event. Big deal. Maybe people other than God can create things ex nihilo. Maybe non-persons can." In other words, it carries a bit more weight than that.

"What piece of evidence makes it even just a tad more likely that the cause of the beginning of our universe is an immaterial agent cause rather than physical antecedents?"

The fact that if the universe (space, time, the whole she-bang) demonstrably had a beginning, that there was a beginning for an immaterial agent to cause. If our universe were past-infinite, this would not come up. Again with an example: It's like saying that if Christ was demonstrated to have been resurrected, it doesn't mean anything because a mere resurrection doesn't show that -God- resurrected Christ. In both cases, I think it's clear the theist/Christian gains quite a lot of ground.

What's more, 'immaterial agent'? Maybe it was a physical agent, but an agent nonetheless. Since the 20th century we've been having some severe trouble merely defining materiality/physicality. I do know immateriality is a claim of classical theism - but atheism has to contend with vastly more than classical theism anyway. Classical/other theisms/deism is a problem even if the universe IS past-eternal. If it had a beginning? Things get far more difficult for the atheist.

"It's not as if Craig's arguments failed to show this, they could nonetheless function as probabilistic arguments for a finite past,"

This depends on what you mean by "Craig's Arguments". He doesn't just rely on philosophical arguments after all. Simply adding credence to our universe having a finite past is a victory for Craig/theists/etc. Establishing our universe is past-finite, even if questions remain, is a major point for same.

"That's certainly true. But the problem is that Craig's arguments fail to do this."

I disagree. Again, Craig does not simply rely on philosophical arguments - he happily and constantly supplements these arguments with empirical observation, etc.

Really, modern science and technology has been shockingly unkind to atheists. Traditional materialism got skewered in the 20th century, deistic scenarios got vastly stronger, our universe certainly seems past-finite, etc. And don't even get me started on multiverses.

exapologist said...

Again, if we have no good reason at all to think the set of past events is finite, then that allows for the possibility of physical antecedents to our universe.

Of course, Craig argues that Big Bang cosmology points to creatio ex nihilo. But unless you're a researcher in the relevant sciences, you're going to have to defer to the experts and appeal to expert opinion here. Unfortunately, the experts disagree, and lots of scientists disagree with Craig.

So again, it seems to me that we're going to need those a priori arguments for a finite past to work.

Carbonman said...

Well, I'm OK with reinventing the wheel as it's a pretty useful tool. :)

As we're dealing with the cosmological argument here I didn't address Craig's other points in my comment on your blog. I've listed his other points on my blog, though, and responded to them.

I am well aware that Craig has debated with a number of people. Rather than list their names, however, it'd be better to state their arguments, or else it comes across a bit like a simple argument from authority.

Craig's argument doesn't prove that the universe was caused. As I've said, that's pure inductive reasoning. And even if there was a cause, his argument does nothing to implicate any god, whether it be Yahweh, Zeus or whatever.

As to 'how the debate has proceeded', I don't believe Craig's tactics are to leave important points unsaid, awaiting their arising in subsequent debate. If he has a cogent argument, let him make it.

In your third paragraph you have done a very good job of dismissing the 'caused universe' argument, so why continue to take it seriously? If, as you imply, Craig has refuted all objections, let Craig build those refutations into the argument itself.

Crude said...

"Again, if we have no good reason at all to think the set of past events is finite, then that allows for the possibility of physical antecedents to our universe."

As I said above, with more words: merely physical antecedents to our universe aren't what the atheist needs. They need physical and impersonal (otherwise, deism or some form of theism is true). And merely having the possibility of any 'antecedent' to the universe is a step in the wrong direction.

And just what "physical" is is a big question itself anymore. The old materialist-Laplacian world is dead and buried, and the standard has been set so broad that panpsychism can be considered 'physicalism' now.

"Of course, Craig argues that Big Bang cosmology points to creatio ex nihilo. But unless you're a researcher in the relevant sciences, you're going to have to defer to the experts and appeal to expert opinion here. Unfortunately, the experts disagree, and lots of scientists disagree with Craig."

And it does point to ex nihilo creation in some senses - certainly in the limited sense of, if the universe began to exist, well now you have your beginning at least. Nor is this purely a question of science (indeed, science may not be able to decisively answer the question one way or the other. Not that philosophy certainly can either.) The KCA (a priori and a posteriori) can be part of a cumulative case, etc.

"So again, it seems to me that we're going to need those a priori arguments for a finite past to work."

And I disagree, at least depending on what "work" means. To demonstrate a logical necessity? Perhaps. To have any relevancy or important point at all? Not really.

exapologist said...

Perhaps I'm not making myself sufficiently clear. The a priori arguments for a finite past are undercut. The a posteriori arguments don't establish an absolute beginning to all physical reality, including physical events occurring in a spatial manifold beyond our universe. But if so, then the door is open for physical events and processes -- mindless processes -- occurring in a spatial and temporal manifold, that caused our universe. (Think M-Theory, for example).

Without an argument for an absolute beginning to *all* spatiotemporal reality, there is nothing that pushes us to accept a timeless, immaterial agent cause of the universe.

Crude said...

"Perhaps I'm not making myself sufficiently clear. The a priori arguments for a finite past are undercut. The a posteriori arguments don't establish an absolute beginning to all physical reality, including physical events occurring in a spatial manifold beyond our universe. But if so, then the door is open for physical events and processes -- mindless processes -- occurring in a spatial and temporal manifold, that caused our universe. (Think M-Theory, for example)."

Sure, that door is open (though whether such processes are 'mindless' is itself another argument). But as I've said, it puts the atheist argument in vastly worse shape than it used to be back when our universe was considered to lack a beginning. That beginning also opens the door to an immaterial uncaused causes, a "physical" but personal cause, etc. And this is only assuming that Morriston's responses do the job you think they do - we'll see if that's the case, or remains the case, as time continues.

Keep in mind where this started off. You wanted to know how our universe having a beginning made an immaterial personal cause even a tad more likely. Well, I'm offering up the tad and then some.

"Without an argument for an absolute beginning to *all* spatiotemporal reality, there is nothing that pushes us to accept a timeless, immaterial agent cause of the universe."

But it "opens the door up" to such at the very least. And conjoined with other arguments and considerations, it (or something close to it) may end up being the most intellectually satisfying option, or even one of a number of intellectually satisfying options.

Not every argument has to utterly compel one to a given position to offer something substantial. I have a very Van Inwagen view about such things in matters of philosophy, myself. But hey, there's tads and then there's buckets of tads.

exapologist said...

Let me try again. Assume arguendo that our universe had an absolute beginning. Then we're assuming that it's a piece of actual data that we have:

D: Our universe had an absolute beginning.

Now consider the following two hypotheses:

H1: The beginning of our universe was caused by physical, non-personal antecedents.

H2: The beginning of our universe was caused by a timeless (at least sans creation), immaterial agent.

Now my question is this: what is it about the data, viz., D, that makes H2 at least a tad more probable than H1?

If Craig's a priori arguments for an absolute beginning of all time are undercut, and if Craig's a posteriori arguments for a beginning to our universe don't tell against the existence of physical events in spatiotemporal manifolds beyond our universe, then I can't see how the argument supports H2 over H1 at least a little bit. Isn't the evidence, at the very best, counterbalanced? So far as I can tell, the answer seems to be, "yes".

Crude said...

Ex, you're the one who strongly implied that our universe having a beginning was a non-issue, an uninteresting development in these discussions about theism and atheism. That's what I've responded to, and on that I think it's clear you were incorrect (let's call it 'downplaying things excessively'). I've already happily pointed out the limits of what this 'compels' or 'proves' on its own. As I said from the start, Craig and others can accomplish quite a lot even lacking an airtight logical proof.

exapologist said...

Throughout our discussion, my claim, all along, has been that given that Craig's a priori arguments against a beginningless past are undercut, a beginning to our universe wouldn't make it even a tad more likely than not -- i.e., above 50% probability or likelihood -- that the cause of our universe is a timeless, immaterial agent cause, rather than some set of physical antecedents. Here are my remarks on this from previous comments:

"What piece of evidence makes it even just a tad more likely that the cause of the beginning of our universe is an immaterial agent cause rather than physical antecedents?" (comment at 10:23, emphasis added at the end).

If the argument can't make it at least a tad more likely than not that theism is true -- above 50% -- then it fails to serve as an epistemic basis for believing that theism is true over disbelieving or suspending judgment. And making that sort of point is of course stronger than merely showing that the kalam argument fails to prove -- or event to prove beyond reasonable doubt -- that theism is true.

Heuristics said...

>"Without an argument for an absolute beginning to *all* spatiotemporal reality, there is nothing that pushes us to accept a timeless, immaterial agent cause of the universe."
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6115&printer_friendly=1
>"With respect to the alternative of Eternal Inflation, it was suggested by some theorists during the 1980s that perhaps the inflationary expansion of the universe was not confined to a brief period early in the history of the universe but is eternal in the past, each inflating region being the product of a prior inflating region. Although such models were hotly debated, something of a watershed appears to have been reached in 2003, when three leading cosmologists, Arvin Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin, were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary.

What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time."

exapologist said...

How does that point help Craig's case? Grant their point: no universe can exist for an infinite duration. That's perfectly compatible with an infinite, beginningless series of finite universes, each one being causally sufficient for a consequent universe.

So again, it looks as though we'll need some a priori arguments for a beginning of all time -- i.e., one that shows that the set of all past events must be finite.

philip m said...

exapologist,

The issue of the intraversability of an actual infinite was a point of discussion in the dialogue that happened last March between Craig and Morriston. Thus, even if there's nothing in a journal, they have talked about the issue in person. They discuss the man who tries to write his autobiography but can't seem to do so very quickly, counting down from negative infinity to zero, and singing praises to God forever in heaven.

As for what the beginning of the universe does, I think it does imply the existence of some antecedent explanation, and as long as theism's intrinsic probability is higher than that of its competitors, the beginning of the universe is of help to theism.

exapologist said...

Hi philip m,

They did indeed discuss the argument. However, so far as I'm able to tell, neither the video, nor the audio, nor the transcript of that dialogue has seen the light of day. However, Morriston has been kind enough to post his main presentation from the dialogue, as well as the accompanying Powerpoint presentation, here. So far as I know, Craig has failed to do the same.

What's perhaps especially odd about this is that the content of Craig's debates (whether video, audio, or transcript, but often combinations of these) typically go up on the internet almost immediately after they occur. For example, Craig's debate with Carrier was posted in less than a week after the event. By contrast, it's been almost seven months since Craig's dialogue with Morriston (which occured March 16th), and the thing is nowhere to be found. This seems to me to be very curious. In any event, I’m still waiting to see Craig reply to Morriston’s defeaters of the a priori arguments against the existence and traversability of actual infinites.

You're of course right that considerations of parsimony are relevant when evaluating competing hypotheses. However, as David Lewis taught us, there are two basic forms of parsimony: quantitative (postulates fewer entities) and qualitative (postulates fewer kinds of entities). And while theism may be a more quantitatively parsimonious explanation of the origin of our universe (it just postulates one extra entity: God), naturalistic hypotheses are more qualitatively parsimonious (they can explain our universe by just appealing to more of the same). Unfortunately, it's not clear which sort of parsimony is more salient here.

In any case, it seems to me that hypotheses explaining the origin of our universe in terms of physical antecedents has an edge over the theistic hypothesis. As Craig himself has argued (in the context of the resurrection, using C. Behan McCullagh’s criteria for inferences to the best explanation), if two hypotheses A and B can explain the same range of data, but A requires appeal to more new assumptions about the world than B, then B is a better explanation of the data then A. Here I’m referring, roughly and loosely, to McCullagh’s criteria (4), (5), and (6), as Craig sometimes labels them:

(4) The hypothesis must be more plausible (that is, implied by a greater variety of accepted truths, and its negation implied by fewer accepted truths) than rival hypotheses.
(5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc (that is, include fewer suppositions not already implied by existing knowledge) than rival hypotheses.
(6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs (that is, when conjoined with accepted truths, imply fewer false statements) than rival hypotheses.

Consider again the supposed data:

D: Our universe had an absolute beginning.



and the two sorts of hypotheses in play:

H1: The beginning of our universe was caused by physical, non-personal antecedents.


H2: The beginning of our universe was caused by a timeless (at least sans creation), immaterial agent.

H1 appeals to entities of a sort that we are already familiar with by experience and accept. By contrast, H2 appeals to an entity that is pretty much sui generis. As pointed out by Hume, and more recently by Mackie and others, all our experience of personal causation is by embodied beings, and these bring about effects in a mediated way (viz., by the motion of their body parts). Further, their knowledge and power are severely limited. But none of these things are attributed to the entity postulated in H2. Thus, for these and similar reasons, it seems to me that H1 a better explantion of D than H2.

Steven Carr said...

Who cares tuppence about Craig's argument for his god who allegedlt created the universe and then became a man and told his friends how to get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish?

Craig believes in a god who told his friends how to get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish.

So who cares if Craig has stolen Islamic arguments for the existence of Allah and now claims they are arguments for the existence of Yahweh?

Carbonman said...

Dr Reppert,

Something I ought to have said before, in response to your comments. Craig DOES offer the cosmological argument as part of his supposed 'proof' of the Christian god. In the debate whose mp3 is linked from my blog, Craig jumps straight from his cosmological 3-liner to 'an uncaused, changeless, timeless, immaterial being of unimaginable power'. However, every part of his 'proof' is no proof at all. Thus he proves nothing.

The cosmological argument, quoted by Craig at the beginning of his debates, is
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Premise 1 is pure inductive reasoning. Uncaused events are quite common at the quantum level and we have no information at all about conditions anterior to the beginning of the universe. All we can do is guess. As premise 1 is, at best, highly questionable, the conclusion of the 'proof' is equally questionable. It proves nothing useful.

I take particular exception to your implication that those three lines of text deserve added credibility because lots of people have been discussing them for a long time. Please don't assert to me that I shouldn't comment until I have waded through the ramblings of dozens of interested apologists. I take the argument at its face value, which is as repeatedly presented by Craig in his public appearances.

No number of learned commentators can serve to clothe the emperor. Something more substantial is needed.