Thursday, January 17, 2008

"The Cosmological Argument"


Chapter Four is a continuation of Dr. Martin's section which contains his arguments against the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Whereas in the last chapter I agreed wholeheartedly in the conclusion arrived at by Dr. Martin (regarding the ontological argument), in this chapter I will be on the other end of the spectrum and wholeheartedly in disagreement with his supposition that his refutation of the arguments here should provide good grounds for discrediting all the cosmological arguments. In fact, I believe that the Cosmological Argument, when formulated correctly is the foundational argument for God's existence. Without it, I think that the other arguments are found wanting. For the sake of readers not familiar with the cosmological argument, I will give a generic example of one. However, there are many versions that have significant differences and, thus, this should not be assumed to be the extent of cosmological proofs. That being said, the generic form can be stated as:

P1- All things that begin to exist must have had a cause.
P2- The universe began to exist
Conclusion- Therefore, the universe must have had a cause

The Cosmological Argument is an argument based on causality. The many forms (which include both deductive and inductive forms) take into account different possibilities such as an infinite universe, a finite universe, a priori evidence, and a posteriori evidence. One should put further study into all these to grasp the nuances. That said; let us turn to the arguments.

Summary of Martin's Claims

In this chapter, Martin presents five versions of the cosmological argument by five very reputable scholars. The arguments presented by Martin include Thomas Aquinas' Second and Third Ways, William Lane Craig's Kalam Argument, Richard Swinburne's Inductive Argument, and Bruce Reichenbach's Cosmological Argument. However, before beginning with these, he presents a very simple version that is stated as:

Everything we know has a cause, but there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, so their must be a first cause. The cause is God.

He makes two criticisms of this argument. First, he points out that, even if this argument were true, the cause need not be an all good, all knowing God. Secondly, he says that it simply assumes that an infinite series is impossible. He points out that those who make such claims believe in infinite series in the field of mathematics and wonders why such series are not allowed in reality. After posing these questions, he moves on.

The first scholarly version of the cosmological argument that Martin takes on is Aquinas' Second Way, which is his argument from efficient causality. Martin presents this argument as Aquinas' attempt to show the impossibility of an infinite series of efficient causes. After further explaining the argument, Martin makes two criticisms. The first is that, even if Aquinas' argument were true, it does not necessarily prove that God is the cause. Secondly, Martin claims that there is no reason that there cannot be a non-temporal infinite regress of causes. He goes on to say that, unless a relevant difference is shown between temporal and non-temporal infinite series Aquinas seems to contradict his own claim, since his arguments presuppose (for the sake of argument) an eternally existing universe. In short, it seems that Martin is asking Aquinas why he allows for the logical possibility of an infinite regress of moments while rejecting the logical possibility for an infinite series of causes.

The next argument that Dr. Martin critiques is Thomas Aquinas' Third Way, the Argument from the need for a necessary being. Martin claims that Aquinas tries to show that, if everything has the potential not to exist, then at one time there was nothing. After attempting to reformulate Aquinas' argument, he makes several criticisms. First, like the other arguments, he points out that even if this argument is granted, it does not prove God, but only a necessary being. Second, he accuses it of committing the fallacy of composition. Third, he challenges the idea that something cannot come from nothing and states that Aquinas' own biblical worldview contradicts this since the universe is said to be caused from nothing. In light of these criticisms, Martin claims that Aquinas' argument has failed.

Next, Dr. Martin takes on a different form of the Cosmological Argument. Whereas Thomas Aquinas arguments allowed for an eternally existing universe, William Lane Craig's version, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, argues for the impossibility of an infinite universe. Craig's argument is formulated exactly as my generic one above. As support for the first premise, Craig offers the possibility of an a priori category a la Kant. Further, he claims that the first premise fits our everyday experience of the world. As support for premise two, Craig notes that denying that the universe began to exist presupposes the possibility of an actual infinite number of things. In argument against this, Craig gives examples to the contrary such as the absurdities that result from considering infinite collections by successive addition (such as time) as well as positive evidence from science (cosmology, entropy). Finally, Craig offers support for the idea that his argument also supports the idea that the cause is personal by what he calls the principle of determination. Martin makes many criticisms of this view including: 1) He claims that Craig's conclusion doesn't justify creation ex nihilo, 2) Craig never offers support for his principle of determination, 3) Craig's arguments against the possibility of an actual infinity are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties, 4) Craig fails to show how the idea of an actual infinity is impossible in reality and even fails to show a non-logical absurdity, 5) Craig's argument from successive addition begs the question for a beginning to the addition, 6) To say that the universe had an absolute beginning is not scientific, since science always leaves open the possibility of explaining an event, and 7) Craig doesn't consider the possibility that the beginning may be uncaused.

After critiquing Craig's Kalam argument, Martin takes on Swinburne's inductive argument. I have to admit that I have never seen Swinburne's argument before and don't understand it as Martin has reported it. Nonetheless, it seems to me that, granting the assumption that it has been represented correctly, Martin seems to have given a scathing and justified critique of it. Since I agree, I won't continue here with a summary. This was a very long and technical section, so if anyone wants to read it, go for it.

Finally, Dr. Martin considers Reichenbach's argument. This argument is an a priori argument from the idea of a necessary being. Again, I am not familiar with this argument, and many of the criticisms have been leveled against the other arguments, so I do not wish to rehash them. I think that I need to understand this view more before I can accept or deny Martin's critique. Therefore, I will pass over this one here.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

There are a few things that I have gained insight on regarding this chapter. First, I commend Dr. Martin for choosing what I think are the strongest cosmological arguments for the existence of God, particularly, the first three. Secondly, I was very impressed with some of his insights on the Thomistic arguments, and even came to realize that there are some aspects of Aquinas' proofs that I did not quite understand, and thus I had to do some extra study. I was also happy to see that Martin recognized that Thomas' arguments weren't arguing for an originating cause but, rather, a present cause. Third, I am so happy that he didn't ask the mindless question: "If everything needs a cause, then what caused God?" Typically, at least with the New Atheists, this question is one of the most common criticisms and does little more than show the lack of understanding on the part of the question askers. Such a question reminds me of a saying by one of my professors: "There are no stupid questions, only stupid people who ask them." However uncharitable that may sound, it seems to be true. Fourth, I appreciate that Martin points out that Craig never justifies his principle of determination. In fact, I propose that Craig's principle is incoherent since it supposes a time before time. Nonetheless, this is not a critique of Kalam's argument, only a critique of this supposed result. I still thin the cause is proven, though not necessarily a personal one (via this argument alone). Fifth, as I said before, I agree with most of what I understood regarding Martin's critique of Swinburne.


Now for my criticisms; primarily I will defend the first three arguments in light of Martin's critique. But before working with each individual one, I would like to address the criticism thrown at each argument. After each critique, Martin offered the criticism that none of these arguments prove God. Well, this is a vague claim and needs to be clarified. If by prove one means each argument doesn't, taken by itself, give a complete presentation of the entire nature of God then, yes, I agree. However, I do think that each argument, if correct, does tell us something about God. Namely, that he is a cause. Regarding the generic proof, I think that there are many implications such as the cause will be extremely powerful, unchanging, eternal, pure act, actually necessary, transcendent, omnipresent, spirit, and one (I will do a blog on this after I finish this series. If you are interested in how I arrive at this conclusion then please e-mail me and I would be happy to discuss it). Nonetheless, I agree that this argument is limited and has nothing to say about the personhood or intelligence of God. Still, I think that this argument presents a pattern of which all claims about God must be filtered through. If they don't fit then the God proposed does not correspond to reason and reality. That said; let us analyze Martin's particular criticisms of Aquinas and Craig.

Regarding the second way, Martin charged Aquinas' with being inconsistent. He basically said that unless a relevant difference is shown between temporal and non-temporal infinite series Aquinas seems to contradict his own claim regarding the potential of having an infinite number of events. Remember, Aquinas' proof accepts the logical possibility of an infinitely existing universe. But Martin asks why there can be an infinite number of moments but not an infinite series of efficient causes. Because of the academic nature of this question I consulted my philosophy professor and here was his reply (in my representation of his words): Martin is confusing the relation of proper causes to their effects versus the relation of accidental causes to their effects. A per se ordered series of causes is where the each cause depends upon the preceding cause in order to cause (such as a hand using a hammer). A per accidens ordered series is where each cause in the series has their causality independent from the preceding cause (such as the generation of children). Thus the per accidens series, for Aquinas, go back indefinitely while the per se series do not. Thus the criticism is misguided. The distinction need not be between a temporal and non-temporal series but rather between the different modes of causality. Thus Martin's criticism of the Second Way fails.

Regarding Martin's critique of the Third Way I have a couple of things to say. First, I think that Martin's reformulation does injustice to Aquinas' argument and thus some of the criticisms based on that formulation don't necessarily apply. Both are included in Martin's text, so I will let anyone who is willing to look for themselves be the judge. Secondly, Martin charges Aquinas with committing the fallacy of composition. But I would like for him, or anyone, to explain to me what the whole universe is without its parts. It would be nothing. Hence it had to receive its existence from something. Nothing in the universe is a thing which has an essence that guarantees its existence. Finally, Martin questions whether the claim that there could not be something brought into being by nothing is not self evident. In doing so he points out that Aquinas' own worldview has an occurrence of something coming from nothing, in the ex nihilo creation of Genesis. To answer this I would first like to point out that something did not come from nothing in Genesis, it came from God. It came 'out of' nothing, but not 'from' nothing. Secondly, I would like to argue that it is self-evident. As soon as we know what 'something' means and what 'nothing' means it is obvious that 'something' cannot come from 'nothing.' If one wants to reject such a concept I think that they would have the burden of proof since they are going against all intuition. So a simple assertion will not do.

Lastly, I would like to look at the seven criticisms leveled at Craig. 1) He claims that Craig's conclusion doesn't justify creation ex nihilo. Actually, it does. If there is a beginning to time then, according to Einstein's Theory of Relativity which has been proven to the 5th or 6th decimal place, there was also a beginning to space and matter. Thus there is no known substance out of which creation could have been derived. 2) Craig never offers support for his principle of determination. I agree with this criticism. 3) Craig's arguments against the possibility of an actual infinity are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties. Martin simply asserts this. I find it disheartening that Martin offers the idea that Craig's argument is unsound as one end of a disjunction. Take the claim alone. Either it is or it isn't. If it is, give proof. Otherwise, don't even bring it up. 4) Craig fails to show how the idea of an actual infinity is impossible in reality and even fails to show a non-logical absurdity. This is false. I don't see why an actual absurdity must be non-logical. Sure, it may be non-logical, but why must it be? That said, the library example, while working with logical argumentation also has an element that seems to relate to reality. That is the whole point. 5) Craig's argument from successive addition begs the question for a beginning to the addition. This is true only as Martin has formulated the claim. But I think that this seems to be a straw man formulation. It is not about a beginning point but an ending point. Craig is not concerned with where it started but how the moments are traversed. 6) To say that the universe had an absolute beginning is not scientific, since science always leaves open the possibility of explaining an event. Of course it is not 'scientific' if by 'scientific' one means 'measurable' or 'testable in a laboratory.' What would there be to measure since time, space, and matter do not exist? Further, who gives the monopoly on truth to the physical sciences? Why do away with metaphysics? 7) Craig doesn't consider the possibility that the beginning may be uncaused. As said earlier, I thing the onus is on Martin to explain why we should deny this intuition.

Therefore, Martin's criticisms do not effectually discredit the cosmological arguments, particularly those of Aquinas and those of Craig. Since this is the case, I will appeal back to them when defending against other criticisms if need be.

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