Theistic Critiques of Atheism, part 14June 24, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
Having spent a good few paragraphs presenting some really excellent arguments for why time cannot extend infinitely far into the past, and having completely failed to grasp the fact that this implies that material reality only needs to exist for a finite history, William Lane Craig continues his Cosmological Argument with two rather brief paragraphs intended to prove its third point, that the universe has a cause.
We thus have good philosophical and scientific grounds for affirming the second premiss of the cosmological argument. It is noteworthy that this premiss is a religiously neutral statement which can be found in any textbook on astrophysical cosmology, so that facile accusations of “God-of-the gaps” theology find no purchase. Moreover, since a being which exists by a necessity of its own nature must exist either timelessly or sempiternally (otherwise its coming into being or ceasing to be would make it evident that its existence is not necessary), it follows that the universe cannot be metaphysically necessary, which fact closes the final loophole in the contingency argument above.
It follows logically that the universe has a cause. Conceptual analysis of what properties must be possessed by such an ultra-mundane cause enables us to recover a striking number of the traditional divine attributes, revealing that if the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
And that’s it! The next paragraph starts a completely different argument. After spending the bulk of his argument belaboring the point—which virtually no skeptic disputes—that the history of the cosmos goes back to a Big Bang, he wraps up his argument by tossing in a breathless “therefore goddidit kthxbai!” and he’s outa here. And just when he was getting to the good part too!
So let’s review. The fulcrum on which the lever of his argument rests is the second point, that the universe began to exist. Since time, however, is an intrinsic property of material reality, his argument isn’t quite accurate. It would be more correct to say that time has a minimum absolute value. But that guts his whole argument, because either time began with the Big Bang (in which case there has never been a time in which the material universe did not exist), or the Big Bang has antecedent natural causes in some larger material context, in which case it is God-of-the-gaps theology to decide that whatever-it-is in that unknown multiverse must necessarily be a sentient, individual, Biblical deity. And even then, we have no reason to conclude that there was ever a time when the larger universe did not exist. It’s time that’s necessarily finite. There’s no reason to believe that the existence of the material cosmos/multiverse cannot be of equal duration.
There is consequently no basis for concluding that the cosmos must have a cause, let alone a supernatural, immaterial one. We may eventually discover, through some advanced inquiry of physics, that this particular space-time continuum arose through the consequences of some larger material context. For such a discovery to be made, however, the properties of that larger n-dimensional context would have to be accessible to material investigation and exploration, since that’s the kind of tools science has to work with. By the time we have a reason to suspect that time extends before the Big Bang, we also have reason to believe that material reality does so also, which moves the “creation” point (so to speak) before the Big Bang as well.
Plus, we already know that this larger material cosmos contains an uncreatable material property (time) without which it cannot chronologically precede the Big Bang. Thus, even if we want to postulate a supernatural Creator to superstitiously attibute things to, we already know there’s at least one aspect of the material cosmos that He could not have created. Thus, He would necessarily be an inadequate explanation for the cosmos as a whole.
None of this, of course, prevents Craig from leaping breathlessly to the conclusion that if the universe has a cause, and scientists aren’t able to spell it out in complete, exhaustive detail, then a Biblical creator God exists, period. Not that it’s a God-of-the-gaps kind of thing. We can tell, because Craig says so himself. “[F]acile accusations of ‘God-of-the gaps’ theology find no purchase,” he says, and if he says so, then it must be true, no matter what it would mean for his conclusion if science were to find a natural process in the n-dimensional metaverse that routinely spits out singularities that Bang into complex life-sustaining space-time continua.
Ah well. It’s a shame really, considering how well he did with his review of the arguments proving that time is finite. If only he weren’t burdened with the superstitious necessity of turning his knowledge into an apologetic, he might have had some interesting insights into what it means that “eternity” isn’t really infinite (as far as the past is concerned, anyway). Instead, he wastes his time trying to make a god-of-the-gaps argument sound like it’s not a god-of-the-gaps argument, and trying to get to his predetermined conclusion without sounding like it’s a predetermined conclusion.
I don’t know who wins this one, because as far as I can see we all lose whenever a good mind is bent to twisted purposes.