William Lane Craig’s Cosmological Argument from Contingency

The Christian Apologist William Lane Craig has put forth 5 arguments for God’s existence, the first of which is the Cosmological Argument from Contingency.

Cosmological argument from contingency

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3).
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2, 4).

Craig thinks this argument is a slam-dunk, open-and-shut case. Is this the case? Let’s take a look.

There are 3 premises to this argument.  The first relates to the types of explanations for ‘things’ existing, the second relates to the explanation for the existence of the universe, and the third is simply a statement that the universe exists.

Premise 1 asserts that there are two possible explanations for the existence of ‘things’: A thing comes into existence through a causal operator (e.g., a car is made to come into existence by an auto manufacturer) OR a thing exists in the necessity of its own nature (i.e., it has no cause).

Craig asserts that only God fits the second category of things – that is, God is uncaused. No natural phenomenon (e.g., the universe) can fit this category, as it would require an explanation from prior to the phenomenon actually existing, which would be nothingness in the case of the universe. Let’s put aside the discoveries of modern quantum physics that provide evidence of something from nothing (see Lawrence Krauss’ recent book on the topic ).  Even without such a discussion, it soon becomes clear that Craig winds up in the very quandary that he claims befalls atheists when they try to explain the beginning of the universe (i.e.., something from nothing). But I get ahead of myself.

It is premise 2 where the real fun starts. He asserts that the typical atheistic response to the contingency argument is as follows: If atheism is true, the universe has no explanation of its existence. For the current discussion, we’ll ignore that this is not, in fact, the typical atheistic response to the contingency argument. We’ll focus instead on how Craig uses this as a convenient way to get to God as being an explanation for the universe, negating the so-called ‘typical argument’ of the atheist. Really, this argument is just a straw man that Craig has set up to back up his points. Further on, he asserts that since the universe is “all of space-time reality, including all matter and energy” the cause for the universe must be “non-physical, immaterial and beyond space and time”. Therefore, the cause for the universe “must be a transcendent, unembodied Mind, which is what Christians understand God to be.”

Craig has made quite the claim, hasn’t he!  We must look more closely, however, at the words and phrases he uses to express this claim. What does he mean by an ‘unembodied Mind’? In the common vernacular, a mind is a function of a physical entity (the brain), so it has a physical source. Now I am fairly confident that Craig means that the ‘unembodied Mind’  lacks such a material or physical source. But what then, is this  ‘unembodied Mind’? It can’t be energy, because that is material. So what is it? Craig doesn’t specify.

Now, let’s get  back to the topic of something coming from nothing — the very idea that Craig finds so unappetizing. As required to follow through with his argument, Craig posits that God is an  ‘unembodied Mind’ and through its will created something material — the universe (btw, God is not a thing, so even Craig admits something came from nothing :-)). Now, if we were around at the time God created the universe, would it not appear to us (and to Craig or any observer) that something appeared out of nothing? By virtue of Occam’s razor wouldn’t we be compelled to accept that something can come from nothing as the simplest and most plausible explanation rather that the convoluted ‘God did it’?  Moreover, if physicists can demonstrate experimentally that something can come from nothing, without appeal to the supernatural, would Craig change his mind? Wouldn’t he be compelled by Occam’s razor to dismiss God as an explanation for the universe? Stay tuned.

Post-script:

Craig just released the following youtube video outlining the Cosmological argument:

For some of his argument he relies on intuition and everyday experience to support the contention that something cannot arise from nothing. Time and again however, science has shown that our intuition and everyday experience cannot be relied upon to discern the truth of things. Take for example the wave-particle duality of light, or special relativity. Also, he relies heavily on the assertion that the atheist position is that the universe always existed. But this is just not true. Yes, at one time science posited an infinite, static universe. But the beauty of science is that these hypotheses/theories are subject to experiment and data, and are therefore falsifiable. And indeed, the static universe was superseded by the Big Bang, which at present is the best theory that fits the data. It is likely not the last word on the subject. But therein lies the beauty of science, and the ugliness of religion. When you start with the (unsubstantiated) answer (God did it), where are you to go? You are left to play with philosophy and cute word games (with some nice video :-)).

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