William Craig @ Westminster chapel

William Lane Craig looks at Dawkins’ arguments in “the God delusion” here

Cosmological argument

Dawkins does not engage with the the most famous version of it called “the argument from contingency”.

He does engage with this version though:

1)      Whatever begins to exist has a cause

2)      The universe began to exist

3)      Therefore the universe has a cause

Premise 1 is at least more plausible than its negation.

Premise 2 can be supported by philosophical (ie you cannot have an infinite series of past events or you would never get to now) and scientific arguments (ie the big bang).

Premise 3 therefore follows.

Craig then infers the properties of this cause to be changeless (timeless) and immaterial, beginning-less (Occam’s razor shaves away previous causes), unimaginably powerful (it created the universe), plausibly personal (it is immaterial and timeless and the only entities we know that have those properties are minds and abstract ideas).

Interesting question : If the cause is eternal and unchanging why isn’t the thing created eternal. The answer must be that the agent is free to bring about conditions that were not previously present.

Dawkins does not dispute this argument but questions that this uncaused cause would listen to prayers, forgive sins, be good. But the argument does not attempt to establish those things.

The moral argument

1)      If god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist

2)      Objective moral values and duties do exist

3)      Therefore, God exists

Dawkins has famously written says “there is at bottom no design, evil or good….we are machines for propagating DNA…” but he is a “stubborn moralist” says Craig. He condemns all kinds of things as morally wrong thus affirming the first two premises of this argument and committing himself to the conclusion.

The teleological argument

A version based on fine turning:

1)      The fine tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

2)      It is not due to physical necessity or chance

3)      Therefore, it is due to design

Fine tuning means that the existence of intelligent life depends on specific values (within very small ranges) for a set of constants that give us the universe we have.

The constants are independent of the laws of nature, there seems to be no reason why they are what they are. So physical necessity is not likely. Dawkins agrees. But they are massively unlikely to be due to chance, unless you adopt the multi-verse theory, ie there are an (almost?) infinite number of universes. This is the explanation Dawkins finds most plausible. Dawkins argues (I would think) that this is simpler than God.

(One issue with this is that we need to consider the mechanism that leads to the production of multiple universes. That system can itself be considered a universe and we can ask where that system came from. Craig says none of Dawkins suggestions are tenable and quotes physicists to back this up.)

So can the design hypothesis be shown to be even more implausible than its competitors? Dawkins says “even in the admitted absence of a strongly satisfying explanation for the fine tuning in physics, still the ‘relatively week’ explanations we have at present are self-evidently better than the self-defeating hypothesis of an intelligent designer”. Craig asks what is this powerful objection to the design hypothesis that renders it self-evidently inferior to the admittedly weak alternative of a world ensemble hypothesis.

Dawkins argument is this: “We are not justified in inferring design as the best explanation of the complex order in the universe, because then a new problem arises, namely who designed the designer”.

Craig “Notice that Dawkins never thinks to ask who designed the world ensemble because he mistakenly thinks it is simple and doesn’t need a designer”.

Craig points out two problems with Dawkins argument:

1)      In order to recognise an explanation as correct, you do not need to have an explanation of the explanation. If astronauts found some machinery on the back of the moon they could infer that it was made by some intelligent agent, even if they had no explanation of who put it there and how they came to be intelligent. If that was not the case you would always get an infinite regress meaning that nothing could ever be explained. We would always be asking “but what explains that explanation”.

2)      A designer would be just as complex as the thing explained. But there are many other factors as well as simplicity that scientists weight when judging the best explanation. An explanation with broader explanatory scope may be more complex that a simpler one but it is preferable because it explains more things. Craig says that a pure mind or soul is not a physical object with parts and so in one sense is more simple than the universe. A mind is simple (irreducible?), even though it has complex ideas.

The ontological argument

Alvin Plantinga’s version:

1)      It is possible that a maximally great being (MGB) exists

2)      If it is possible that a MGB exists, then a MGB exists in some possible world.

3)      If a MGB exists in some possible word, then it exists in every possible world.

4)      If a MGB exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world

5)      If a MGB exists in the actual world, then a MGB exists.

6)      Therefore a MGB exists.

Craig says that “Steps 2 thought 6 are uncontroversial. Most philosophers agree that if God’s existence is even possible then it follows logical that he must exist”. The key issue is then is premise 1 true? But in order to show it is not true you would have to find some logical impossibility for a MGB to exist. Dawkins parody of the argument that “a being who did not exist and created everything is greater than a being who does exist and created everything means that God does not exist”, falls foul of this as it is logically impossible for a being not to exist and yet to do something.

Q&A

Craig helpfully distinguishes objective moral values from absolute moral values. Affirming objective moral values means that in a certain situation something is wrong irrespective of human opinion. It is just wrong. Affirming absolute moral values is saying that in every situation X is the wrong thing to do.

Craig : “Any argument you can run about being sceptical of the reality of objective morality, I can run about the essence of the physical world. In the absence of some reasons to distrust your experiences you have good reason to consider they are true”.

The anthropic principle says “we should not be surprised that we see a fine tuned universe because if it was not we would not be here to observe it but this is generally recognised to be a fallacious argument…just because it is true that only a universe which is fine tuned can have observers in it, it does not follow that it isn’t improbable that a fine tuned universe should exist”. Ie we can still marvel at the apparent improbability that we exist at all to observe the universe. It needn’t have been that way and we need some explanation over and above “Oh look, it just happened because we are here to see it”. This is why people now tend to appeal to the world ensemble.

If God is changeless, what about the incarnation?

Answer: God was unchangeable but when he created the universe he entered into the universe and became changeable. God is in time from the moment of creation onwards.

BTW three books by Craig:

“on guard”

“reasonable faith”

“The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology”

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