• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Atheist "Refutation" of the Cosmological Argument? Not Here, Not Now

A reader asks: “Professor Stackhouse, Do you have any comments on The Apostate’s post about William Lane Craig?

I reply:

I stopped reading The Apostate’s first post after he made such a hash of “refuting” the cosmological argument. I’m not saying he doesn’t raise good points later on: I just don’t have time to read everything, and the opening is so bad it doesn’t give me good grounds to keep reading. Here’s what I mean.

His first argument is to cite mumbo-jumbo about cosmological theories that are, to put it kindly, in very early days and (to his credit) the Apostate doesn’t claim they have a lot of empirical verification because they don’t. (I figure if even I know that, and I’m no scientist but have a lively amateur interest in such things, then everybody talking about such matters should know it, too!).

That’s the best of his three arguments. The second one shows that he doesn’t understand the cosmological argument. (I just heard a University of Toronto professor emeritus of philosophy make the same embarrassing mistake at a debate in the University of Ottawa.) Just look up “cosmological argument” on that noted philosophical reference tool, Wikipedia, to see what The Apostate fails to see, namely, this basic, basic qualification: everything that is finite and contingent ultimately must stem from something that is neither finite nor contingent. “Super-intelligent aliens,” the Apostate’s alternative hypothesis, are finite and contingent. Ergo, they don’t help his case.

This point perhaps deserves underlining, because it’s common for Christians to encounter critics–even educated critics–saying something they think is quite clever: “You say everything has to have a cause. Well, who caused God?” They then congratulate themselves on scoring some important point here, but really they just show that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The argument is indeed fairly simple, but not stupid! “Everything we know about is both finite and contingent. An infinite regress of finite and contingent beings is impossible. So there must be something that is infinite and necessary”–which is a good beginning toward a definition of God. (Thomas Aquinas said it better, of course.)

The third “refutation” says that the act of creation requires both space and time, but space and time are properties of the universe–the thing to be created–so creation before there is space and time is impossible.

This kind of thing also shows up a lot, and just stumps me as to why people think it’s a good argument. First, some of these people want to avoid the idea of divine creation by positing multiple universes–but suddenly space and time is limited to this and only this universe. Second, why is space and time dogmatically confined to this universe? Why can’t there be Someone who exists on his own, in his own space and time, who creates this universe (and perhaps others before, or alongside) when and where he pleases? Not only is this not an incoherent idea: It seems pretty obvious.

(Perhaps the ghost of Plato haunts us still, since both Augustine and Leibniz–each Platonic in his own way–actually argue something similar. They posit a timeless God, since they, too, have trouble imagining a time-space situation in which God exists before this universe is created. But if God simply is temporal and spatial in and of himself, as many of us Christian theologians and philosophers think makes the most sense of the Bible and of philosophy, then the problem vanishes.)

I like Bill Craig personally and I think he does a lot of good. I don’t agree with, or even personally like, all of his approach, which sometimes strikes me as flinging a bunch of arguments at one’s opponent and one’s audience too quickly for anyone to really be persuaded of any or all of them. But these arguments deserve intelligent treatment, and they don’t get them from the Apostate or his ilk.