God and the cause of the universe

A large and powerful tradition within Christendom has always asserted that faith in God’s existence (and His revelation through Christ) is a rational belief based on evidence, i.e. grounded in the same way our beliefs about the natural world are.

Given that the large majority of Conservative Christians take this approach, it has always dumbstruck me to see the New Atheists always describing faith as “pretending to now what you don’t know” and completely ignoring the fact that very few Christians hold to that view.

R.D. Mika wrote an interesting post about such an attempt to prove God’s existence  by using the fact that our universe began to exist (at the Big Bang).

 

“It is without a doubt true that different people respond to arguments differently. In particular, the wayin which an argument is presented may make the difference in whether a person properly perceives and understands the argument or not. Now the Kalam Cosmological Argument—as formulated by William Lane Craig—is, at present, an incredibly popular argument for theism. Its premises have been attacked and defended multiple times over and from all sorts of different angles. Many people think that the Kalam argument, as it is popularly formulated, is sound, and many people think the opposite.

 
What I wish to offer in this post is one way that the Kalam argument can be reformulated in order to change its presentation and argumentative focus, which might, in turn, make it more appealing and understandable to certain people who might not appreciate it as much when it is presented in its popular formulation. In particular, what I propose is to change the argument structure from a straight deductive argument to a type of “trilemma” argument. Changing the argument in this way will thus force the argument’s opponent to positively select one option of the trilemma, rather than simply allowing him to search for and offer “possible” objections to the traditional premises of the argument. And this, in turn, means that the positive selection that the opponent makes can then be scrutinized and shown to be less reasonable (even irrational) in comparison to the other selections that are on offer. In addition, by forcing the opponent of the argument to actually make a choice as to which option he finds most reasonable, it also prevents the opponent from hiding behind a type intellectual agnosticism or selective skepticism, which he can do to a greater degree when the argument is formulated in the traditional way. Furthermore, by presenting the argument in a trilemma format, where the options are clearly presented and the consequences of accepting those options are absolutely clear as well, the trilemma option can, with absolute clarity, show the enormously steep price that needs to be paid in order to deny the option that supports the Kalam. Also, because it is an argument format that lays all the options out on the table before a person, and because those options can be readily and easily compared, the trilemma format further shows just how absurd it is to choose the options that go against the Kalam argument in comparison to the options that support the argument. Finally, because it shares the many strengths of an “inference to the best explanation” argument format, the trilemma method of presenting the Kalam argument is more natural and easily understandable for the common man. Consider that when a mother finds that the cookie jar on the top shelf of the kitchen has been raided, she will likely reason in the same way that this reformulation of the Kalam will use. She will, for example, consider that the only three individuals that could possibly be responsible for raiding the cookie jar are her three children: Billy, Bob, and Brent. But since Billy was sleeping at the time of the incident and Bob is just a baby and does not know where the cookie jar is (nor could he reach it), then the only candidate left, beyond a reasonable doubt, is Brent. So, the mother reasons, Brent is the only candidate of the three that could have taken the cookies. People often reason in such a manner, and it is simply a more instinctive way of reasoning than deductive reasoning is. Thus, when the Kalam argument is presented in such a manner, it may be more easily understood by the lay-person.

Now, before I offer this Kalam Trilemma Argument, let me do two things. First, I will point out that like the traditional formulation of the Kalam argument, this different formulation assumes the A-Theory of time. Second, let me just refresh your memory as to how the Kalam argument is traditionally formulated (from the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology):

 
Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

 

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

 

Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

 

Conceptual Analysis of the Cause of the Universe: An uncaused, personal, Creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginingless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
So, with those two points stated, let us reformulate the Kalam argument in a trilemma-type format.
Fact: The universe (meaning all of space, matter, energy, and time itself) began to exist; in essence, at one point, there was no universe and then there was a universe. (We will, both for the sake of argument and because my goal is not to defend this particular premise in this blog post, just assume that it is the case that the universe began to exist.)
Now, given that the universe began to exist, then there are only three options that can account for its beginning to exist.
Option 1: The universe is uncaused and came out of absolute nothingness. In essence, something which began to exist—the universe—has no cause and came out of an absolute nothingness which has no potentials, no knowledge, no creative ability, no powers, no laws, no force, no nothing! Thus, even though “out of nothing, nothing comes” is a fact more certain than the fact that matter exists, to choose this option you would indeed need to believe that, actually, something can come from absolute nothingness. You would need to believe that out of absolutely nothingness, something does come.

 

 

 

Option 2: The universe was self-caused. In essence, the universe, which did not exist, somehow nevertheless caused itself to exist. A non-existent thing caused itself to exist. To believe this, you would need to believe something that was literally impossible: that a non-existent thing, which thus had no powers, no potential, no creative ability, no knowledge, no force, nothing at all because it did not exist, nevertheless had the power and ability to somehow cause itself to exist.
Option 3: The universe was caused by something which itself is not the universe or any part of the universe, and which is—given that the universe includes all matter—necessarily non-material. In essence, the universe has a cause that is distinct from itself. And to choose this option, all you would have to believe is precisely that: that the universe has a cause which is separate and distinct from the universe itself.
Now, when these three options are compared—and ultimately, as stated, they are indeed the only three options available—I contend that it is manifestly obvious that the third option is the more reasonable one to hold (and once that option is selected, then the Conceptual Analysis can be done). And note that it would be disingenuous for the opponent of the argument to avoid selecting this third option simply because he knows where the argument is leading. Rather, if he is genuinely seeking the truth (or seeking the most rational position to hold), then he must make his selection in this trilemma based on the three options before him as they stand, not on the basis of what they might lead to. Also note that if the opponent of the Kalam argument does select an option other than Option 3, then his choice can be mercilessly attacked and the absurdity of his selection can be readily exposed. Finally, in my view, it should be clear that the opponent of the argument cannot hide behind agnosticism, because when presented with these three options, I contend that all people will see one option as at least more likely than another, thus moving that person away from straight agnosticism and towards one of the three options available.

 

So presenting the Kalam argument in this manner has certain advantages that the traditional formulation does not have, and thus you may wish to consider this approach in the future when employing the Kalam argument.”

 

A large and powerful tradition within Christendom has always asserted that faith in God’s existence (and His revelation through Christ) is a rational belief based on evidence, i.e. grounded in the same way our beliefs about the natural world are.

Given the fact that the large majority of Conservative Christians take this approach, it has always dumbstruck me to see the New Atheists always describing faith as “pretending to now what you don’t know” and completely ignore the fact that very few Christians hold to that view.

 

R.D. Mika wrote an interesting post about such an attempt to prove God’s existence  by using the fact that our universe began to exist.

 

It is without a doubt true that different people respond to arguments differently. In particular, the wayin which an argument is presented may make the difference in whether a person properly perceives and understands the argument or not. Now the Kalam Cosmological Argument—as formulated by William Lane Craig—is, at present, an incredibly popular argument for theism. Its premises have been attacked and defended multiple times over and from all sorts of different angles. Many people think that the Kalam argument, as it is popularly formulated, is sound, and many people think the opposite.

 
What I wish to offer in this post is one way that the Kalam argument can be reformulated in order to change its presentation and argumentative focus, which might, in turn, make it more appealing and understandable to certain people who might not appreciate it as much when it is presented in its popular formulation. In particular, what I propose is to change the argument structure from a straight deductive argument to a type of “trilemma” argument. Changing the argument in this way will thus force the argument’s opponent to positively select one option of the trilemma, rather than simply allowing him to search for and offer “possible” objections to the traditional premises of the argument. And this, in turn, means that the positive selection that the opponent makes can then be scrutinized and shown to be less reasonable (even irrational) in comparison to the other selections that are on offer. In addition, by forcing the opponent of the argument to actually make a choice as to which option he finds most reasonable, it also prevents the opponent from hiding behind a type intellectual agnosticism or selective skepticism, which he can do to a greater degree when the argument is formulated in the traditional way. Furthermore, by presenting the argument in a trilemma format, where the options are clearly presented and the consequences of accepting those options are absolutely clear as well, the trilemma option can, with absolute clarity, show the enormously steep price that needs to be paid in order to deny the option that supports the Kalam. Also, because it is an argument format that lays all the options out on the table before a person, and because those options can be readily and easily compared, the trilemma format further shows just how absurd it is to choose the options that go against the Kalam argument in comparison to the options that support the argument. Finally, because it shares the many strengths of an “inference to the best explanation” argument format, the trilemma method of presenting the Kalam argument is more natural and easily understandable for the common man. Consider that when a mother finds that the cookie jar on the top shelf of the kitchen has been raided, she will likely reason in the same way that this reformulation of the Kalam will use. She will, for example, consider that the only three individuals that could possibly be responsible for raiding the cookie jar are her three children: Billy, Bob, and Brent. But since Billy was sleeping at the time of the incident and Bob is just a baby and does not know where the cookie jar is (nor could he reach it), then the only candidate left, beyond a reasonable doubt, is Brent. So, the mother reasons, Brent is the only candidate of the three that could have taken the cookies. People often reason in such a manner, and it is simply a more instinctive way of reasoning than deductive reasoning is. Thus, when the Kalam argument is presented in such a manner, it may be more easily understood by the lay-person.
Now, before I offer this Kalam Trilemma Argument, let me do two things. First, I will point out that like the traditional formulation of the Kalam argument, this different formulation assumes the A-Theory of time. Second, let me just refresh your memory as to how the Kalam argument is traditionally formulated (from the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology):

 
Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

 

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

 

Conclusion: Therefore, the universe has a cause.

 

Conceptual Analysis of the Cause of the Universe: An uncaused, personal, Creator of the universe exists, who without the universe is beginingless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
So, with those two points stated, let us reformulate the Kalam argument in a trilemma-type format.
Fact: The universe (meaning all of space, matter, energy, and time itself) began to exist; in essence, at one point, there was no universe and then there was a universe. (We will, both for the sake of argument and because my goal is not to defend this particular premise in this blog post, just assume that it is the case that the universe began to exist.)
Now, given that the universe began to exist, then there are only three options that can account for its beginning to exist.
Option 1: The universe is uncaused and came out of absolute nothingness. In essence, something which began to exist—the universe—has no cause and came out of an absolute nothingness which has no potentials, no knowledge, no creative ability, no powers, no laws, no force, no nothing! Thus, even though “out of nothing, nothing comes” is a fact more certain than the fact that matter exists, to choose this option you would indeed need to believe that, actually, something can come from absolute nothingness. You would need to believe that out of absolutely nothingness, something does come.

 

 

Option 2: The universe was self-caused. In essence, the universe, which did not exist, somehow nevertheless caused itself to exist. A non-existent thing caused itself to exist. To believe this, you would need to believe something that was literally impossible: that a non-existent thing, which thus had no powers, no potential, no creative ability, no knowledge, no force, nothing at all because it did not exist, nevertheless had the power and ability to somehow cause itself to exist.
Option 3: The universe was caused by something which itself is not the universe or any part of the universe, and which is—given that the universe includes all matter—necessarily non-material. In essence, the universe has a cause that is distinct from itself. And to choose this option, all you would have to believe is precisely that: that the universe has a cause which is separate and distinct from the universe itself.
Now, when these three options are compared—and ultimately, as stated, they are indeed the only three options available—I contend that it is manifestly obvious that the third option is the more reasonable one to hold (and once that option is selected, then the Conceptual Analysis can be done). And note that it would be disingenuous for the opponent of the argument to avoid selecting this third option simply because he knows where the argument is leading. Rather, if he is genuinely seeking the truth (or seeking the most rational position to hold), then he must make his selection in this trilemma based on the three options before him as they stand, not on the basis of what they might lead to. Also note that if the opponent of the Kalam argument does select an option other than Option 3, then his choice can be mercilessly attacked and the absurdity of his selection can be readily exposed. Finally, in my view, it should be clear that the opponent of the argument cannot hide behind agnosticism, because when presented with these three options, I contend that all people will see one option as at least more likely than another, thus moving that person away from straight agnosticism and towards one of the three options available.
So presenting the Kalam argument in this manner has certain advantages that the traditional formulation does not have, and thus you may wish to consider this approach in the future when employing the Kalam argument.”

 

First of all I appreciate the rather humble tone he employed here.

The main problem I see here is that he forgot another vital option:

“Our universe began to exist and it is one member in an infinite chain of parallel universes giving birth to each others.”, as many cosmologists such as Lee Smolin see it.

The cosmological argument can only be valid if this possibility can be discarded. But I don’t see how this could be done.

To my mind, neither this scenario nor the creation from scratch through God’s spirit can be shown to be the most likely explanation to the satisfaction of those not already committed to the hypothesis.