Do Not Underestimate William Lane Craig

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 2, 2009 in Kalam Argument,Science,Video,William Lane Craig

craig2I have repeatedly asked atheists not to underestimate or dismiss Christian apologist William Lane Craig.

Granted, Craig can be rather silly when he discusses the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit or other particulars of Christian doctrine.

But when discussing his favorite topic, the Kalam cosmological argument for God’s existence, I think Craig is remarkably clear, philosophically rigorous, and scientifically informed. I will even say he almost always understands the philosophical and scientific issues in play better than his professional critics, who are physicists or philosophers themselves.

This should be no surprise, as Craig has dedicated his life to those issues.

However, atheists often throw out naive objections that they assume must defeat the argument. I think the subconscious thinking of the atheist may go something like this:

  1. If the Kalam cosmological argument is sound, then atheism is false.
  2. But atheism isn’t false, because God is very improbable (due to the argument from evil, the absurdity of magic, etc.)
  3. Therefore, there must be a problem with the Kalam cosmological argument somewhere, and I don’t need to bother understanding Craig’s responses to every objection that has been offered.

This is similar to a common reasoning tactic of the believer, what ex-apologist called “modus tollens-ing” any objection to theism:

  1. If objection x is sound, then theism is false.
  2. But theism isn’t false, because argument y is sound (or, because I know God to exist from my personal experience of him).
  3. Therefore, objection x is not sound.

I think atheists raise many objections to the Kalam argument that they would never think to raise if they didn’t know that (according to the Kalam argument) they implied a Creator. For example, it seems to me that some atheists object to the causal principle (“Everything that begins to exist has a cause”) only after they see it as Premise 1 of Craig’s argument. They would never think to object to the causal principle otherwise.

The fact is that Craig holds his own very well against scientific objections from professional physicists, and – amazingly – seems to understand the scientific issues better than they do. On top of that, he always understands the philosophical issues better than they do.

Just to drive my point home, here’s a video of Craig answering high-level questions about the Kalam argument from philosophers and physicists, including some former debate opponents. Craig’s understanding of the scientific issues is astonishing (and his understanding is only increased by the recent contributions of James Sinclair to Craig’s chapter in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology):

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{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

urbster1 September 2, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Holy shit! Wow, Stenger in the audience? These are great videos. I hadn’t known about this talk at all, thanks for posting! Also, fuck the Templeton Foundation! Lol, not really though. I’m glad they were able to sponsor this talk.

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shane September 2, 2009 at 9:19 pm

If you love this guy so much, why don’t you marry him?

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Taranu September 2, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Regarding the Old Testament, unlike other apologists, Craig says that the Jews were wrong when they did immoral things and claimed that God told them to do so.
Regarding the Resurrection hypothesis, whenever he uses it as the fourth argument for the existence of God in his debates, the argument seems to be question begging. I say this because the Resurrection is a miracle and as Craig points out when he applies McCullagh criterion, the hypothesis requires that God exists. However, when he uses it to show God exists he claims that the Resurrection is evidence for God’s existence, but since the Resurrection is a miracle it requires God. Am I right about this or am I missing something?

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EvanT September 3, 2009 at 1:16 am

3. Therefore, there must be a problem with the Kalam cosmological argument somewhere, and I don’t need to bother understanding Craig’s responses to every objection that has been offered.

I’ll agree with Luke on this.  In fact it has become a trend among “New Atheists”, especially since PZ Myers codified this kind of behaviour in his “Courtier’s Reply” and Dawkins callously added it to the preface of the “God Delusion”. While I can see it being reasonably used against obscure antique theologians, it is irresponsible to be used indiscriminately, especially against the words of  important theologians that actually shaped Christianity the way it is today.
One should not use it against Craig for instance,  in the same sense it cannot be used Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil of Cappadocea, Gregorius of Nyssa etc. Craig aside, these figures shaped Orthodox and Catholic theology. They’re simply too important to ignore (eg. Athanasius basically created the Trinity dogma from whole cloth. How can one ignore him for Pete’s sake!)
I’m suspicious of anything that can be used an excuse for academic sloth and self- back-patting, whether it’s “You don’t need to read the whole Bible,  I’ll give you the gist” or “Athanasius? Who the hell’s that?! Pfft. Dontcha know that God’s highly improbable?”
I’m on Luke’s side on this. If you can’t take the philosophical heat, stay out of the kitchen.

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IntelligentDasein September 3, 2009 at 3:42 am

I am a pretty big fan of the Kalam Argument for Atheism. That is, you accept it then disagree with a personal force and use quantum mechanics in the creator less universe.

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Toni September 3, 2009 at 4:01 am

I don’t understand, why so many people debating Craig even bother with his Kalam argument. I’d have no big problem with the Kalam argument being true. It’s Craig’s interpretation of the Kalam argument, that makes his reasoning ridiculous.
His assumptions about the existence of minds without bodies, to that about human concepts depended on time like acting and thinking can be applied without a temporal framework, are just arbitrary. Furthermore he gives no good direct reason, why this mind is a specific god, and not some other character. His only justification is the indirect and weak argument of Jesus’ resurrection.

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Ben September 3, 2009 at 5:25 am

Luke,

I can understand an academic interest in fully dissecting an argument to the extents you plan, but I really must say it is an incredibly stretch for you to try to sell us how intimidating the Kalam argument is supposed to be or how much we should esteem William Lane Craig’s articulation and defense of it.  It appears that you are just wrong and that in this post you haven’t offered up some rather straight forward sentence long rebuttals to it on behalf of other atheists that who do blow this off fairly easily.
 
For instance, WLC doesn’t know that a greater multiverse system *began*.
 
And two, if there is no such thing as an actual infinity, there is no such thing as an eternal afterlife especially in light of God’s infinite knowledge of every point of it.
 
That took all of two seconds to find two entirely damning points and the argument is dead in the water.    *yawn*
 
So like I said, I respect your efforts, but not your sales pitch.  And honestly if I take your sales pitch too seriously, that does start characterizing the *quality* of your quantitative efforts.  Why do you need us to believer that your argument map is so necessary?  I think people would just be impressed that you did it.  And it will make nice reference when someone does want to get into the minutia since that inevitably happens even in circumstances where you would probably agree sentence long rebuttals are much more than sufficient.
 
Perhaps you could help us understand better.
 
Ben

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Matthew September 3, 2009 at 5:38 am

 

The fact is that Craig holds his own very well against scientific objections from professional physicists, and – amazingly – seems to understand the scientific issues better than they do. On top of that, he always understands the philosophical issues better than they do.

 
You might remember that he wrote a dissertation on this very topic. So he should know a great deal about it.
On philosophical issues, a good example is good ol’ Stenger in the videos you linked, who apparently did enough mental masturbation to convince himself that “nothing” is unstable. I still can’t believe that this guy was allowed to teach philosophy. His scientific case for an infinite part deserves to be taken far more seriously, but that’s not what he’s popularizing. I wonder why that is.
 
By the way, I see nothing wrong with “modus tollens”-ing.
Take this example from PVI’s book “An essay on free will”:
(1) If both the mind-argument ais sound then the (or some) consequence-argument is unsound or free will does not exist.
(2) The (or some) consequence-argument is sound and free will exists.
(3) (Therefore) The mind-argument is unsound.
Why should there be something wrong with it?

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Reginald Selkirk September 3, 2009 at 6:51 am

The fact is that Craig holds his own very well against scientific objections from professional physicists, and – amazingly – seems to understand the scientific issues better than they do. On top of that, he always understands the philosophical issues better than they do.

And yet, as discussed on this very blog, Craig’s arguments concerning mathematical concepts such as infinity are highly suspect, and he has repeatedly made very bad arguments concerning probability.
 

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Reginald Selkirk September 3, 2009 at 6:56 am

For example, it seems to me that some atheists object to the causal principle (”Everything that begins to exist has a cause”) only after they see it as Premise 1 of Craig’s argument. They would never think to object to the causal principle otherwise.

This makes perfect sense to me. I accept causality on a mesoscopic scale for day-to-day events. What is at issue is whether it also applies at the limits, such as the birth of a Universe.
When a greater claim is made, it makes sense to give it greater scrutiny. This fits in with the well-known scientific principle (as expressed, for example, by Carl Sagan) that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
 
 

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Kip September 3, 2009 at 8:04 am

I have 2 major problems with the KCA:

The term “Universe” (premise 2) is ambiguous, and possibly being equivocated.
Premise 4 adds a lot of properties that lack sufficient justification (especially the “Personal” one).

I’m sure you’ll get to that, though.  :-)

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Pablo Stafforini September 3, 2009 at 8:35 am

there must be a problem with the Kalam cosmological argument somewhere, and I don’t need to bother understanding Craig’s responses to every objection that has been offered.
I agree that this characterizes adequately the modus operandi of many atheists who debate William Lane Craig. But I don’t think there is anything inherently objectionable in such a move. It all depends on whether one’s inability to spot a flaw in Craig’s argument is more likely due to the fact that the argument has no flaw rather than to one’s imperfect ability to spot flaws in arguments.  When it comes to the Kalam cosmological argument, it does seem to me that the atheists are wrong in dismissing it out of hand; but this is because I believe the antecedent evidence for atheism is not so strong as to warrant that dismissal.  But concerning the historical argument for the resurrection, a prior dismissal is, I believe, perfectly justified.  Suppose you took the argument seriously and still failed to find a problem with it.  Now ask yourself, which is more likely, that God did in fact raise Jesus from the dead, or that there is a problem with the argument which you just failed to find? The question answers itself.

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Taranu September 3, 2009 at 8:56 am

Are God’s attributes that according to Craig derive from the Kalam (timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal being with the unimaginable  power and knowledge to sans the Universe into existence) sufficient? I mean how does he know that they are enough to produce the Universe ex nihilo? This is not just counter intuitive but I cannot see on what grounds Craig draws inference from them to a miraculous Creation. Could knowledge and power allow someone to create from nothing?
 

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Kevin September 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

“it seems to me that some atheists object to the causal principle (”Everything that begins to exist has a cause”) only after they see it as Premise 1 of Craig’s argument. They would never think to object to the causal principle otherwise.”
 
I don’t disagree that atheists can be irrational and less than rigorous in responding to this and other arguments, but the above example is poorly chosen.  We don’t object to the causal principle for the most part because it applies to things within the universe that we can observe.  Causation is typically a very mundane thing.  Applying the notion of causation to an eternal, supernatural being sets off the alarms precisely because it is so different from all the examples of causation with which we are familiar.  Because Craig tries to use the principle of causation in such a strange way, we are justified in questioning it, at least as he applies it.
 
Causation as we experience it always happens in time and space, and, if I’m not mistaken, always has at least a material and efficient cause (to use Aristotle’s categories).  But Craig is asking us to accept that an effect, the universe, happens without a material cause, and without the cause being temporally prior to the effect (and his reply that some causes are simultaneous with their effects doesn’t help him, since this too is a temporal explanation).
 
I’m know you know all this, but I’m just arguing that this sort of objection from the atheist is not unreasonable or inconsistent with otherwise affirming the principle of causation.

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mikespeir September 3, 2009 at 9:49 am

Pablo’s point above is well taken.  We’re not all philosophers and never will be.  I know I haven’t the training–nor probably the intellect–to dissect this gnarled mass of argumentation called Kalam.  But what I can process certain underlying supposition that theism has to make in order to be true.  Many of these are absurd on their face.  So for me to accept that Kalam proves what WLC claims it does would necessitate that I see these absurdities as perfectly reasonable.  I can’t do that.

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lukeprog September 3, 2009 at 10:25 am

Ben,

What sales pitch? All I’m saying is that many common critiques of the KCA miss the mark because they don’t understand the problem. Just like many attempts at formulating the Problem of Evil failed until after Plantinga, because he formulated the relevant issues more clearly than anyone had before.

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Pete September 3, 2009 at 12:08 pm

For example, it seems to me that some atheists object to the causal principle (”Everything that begins to exist has a cause”) only after they see it as Premise 1 of Craig’s argument. They would never think to object to the causal principle otherwise.

I don’t think this is right. Almost anyone with empiricist inclinations will reject it. The crucial question is: What could the justification for such a principle be? Here, we encounter a dilemma:
(1) On the one hand, there is clearly no logical or conceptual contradiction involved in the proposition that something begins to exist without being caused to exist. But then, it seems highly doubtful that this principle is justified a priori.
(2) On the other hand, the inductive argument for the principle (an argument that Craig himself sketches) is patently invalid:  What we observe are things and events in space and time – but this does not allow us to draw conclusions about spacetime as a whole (i.e. about the universe). In addition to that, there seem to be phenomena on the microphysical level that violate the principle. In sum, there is no a posteriori justification available for that principle either.
But if there are neither a priori nor a posteriori grounds for this principle, it is unjustified.  It is certainly “intuitive” – but so is the thesis that physical space is euclidean, and we know that this thesis is false.
 

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Reginald Selkirk September 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Third video , ~ 07:15

The only things we know can exit timelessly and spacelessly are minds and abstract objects…

How do we know that minds could exist timelessly and spacelessly? I’m pretty sure that’s never been empircally observed.

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Kristinn September 3, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I agree with Toni on this:
<blockquote>His assumptions about the existence of minds without bodies, to that about human concepts depended on time like acting and thinking can be applied without a temporal framework, are just arbitrary.</blockquote>
Sloppy reasoning, Craig.

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TK September 3, 2009 at 12:43 pm

I think atheists raise many objections to the Kalam argument that they would never think to raise if they didn’t know that (according to the Kalam argument) they implied a Creator. For example, it seems to me that some atheists object to the causal principle (”Everything that begins to exist has a cause”) only after they see it as Premise 1 of Craig’s argument. They would never think to object to the causal principle otherwise.

It may well be the case that some atheists do think this way. However, there is another good reason to think this premise is false, even without considering the argument’s implications. Namely, this premise is (at least presumably) grounded in experience. Craig cannot prove deductively that everything which begins to exist has a cause, but it certainly makes inductive sense; none of us have ever observed something which didn’t begin to exist and was uncaused.
The problem is that the conclusion ultimately based on this premise, namely, that God exists, requires us to reject a number of other propositions which are just as strongly grounded in experience, such as:
1. Every mind is attached to a brain.
2. Everything that exists began to exist.
3. Everything that exists exists in space and in time.
4. Everything that is capable of creating does so in space and time.
etc…
We don’t seem to have any reason to reject any of these propositions. In fact, if we take any of these as a premise for our argument, the conclusion is not “God exists”, but rather “God does not exist!”

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Paul September 3, 2009 at 3:02 pm

This may seem a bit tongue in cheek although not intended as such.  But is there a difference with regards to what “exists” on the other side of the edge of space to that of what existed at the moment before the big bang?

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Justin Martyr September 3, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Completely off topic, but Luke you should enable URL redirects to have more search engine friendly URL’s. Don’t let other atheist’s blogs steal your google traffic!

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Steven Carr September 3, 2009 at 8:57 pm

So Craig is the world’s leading expert on what sort of thing can create universes?

How? Like me, Craig wouldn’t have a clue how to create a universe.

How do you create a universe?

First of all, you take some ….. Oh wait, there is nothing to take to make a universe with.

Craig is no more an expert on what sort of thing can create universes than he is an expert on how to create elements with atomic number 400.

No fault of his, but humanity’s knowledge has not got as far as being able to give sensible answers to those questions yet.

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lukeprog September 3, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Reginald Selkirk: How do we know that minds could exist timelessly and spacelessly? I’m pretty sure that’s never been empircally observed.

Yeah, for me that’s one of the biggest WTF moments in Craig’s KCA.

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lukeprog September 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Justin,

You mean I should enable pingbacks and trackbacks?

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lukeprog September 3, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Carr,

Craig is an expert on the logical structure of the KCA, on physical theories of cosmogony, on the mathematics of infinity, and so on…

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Toni September 4, 2009 at 2:47 am

Do physical theories really propose, that time and space began to exist with the Big Bang? As far as I know all our mathematical models about the early universe only reach as far as to one planck time after the big bang and describe the expansion of space and time from a extremely dense state, which our models fail to explain. Isn’t the interpretation, that space and time really began to exist with the Big Bang, a premature conclusion? Couldn’t one image a former kind of universe that collapsed into a singularity and reemerged as our universe?
And if that is correct, shouldn’t Craig know this, instead of being so vigorously confident?

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Ben September 4, 2009 at 3:14 am

lukeprog: Ben,What sales pitch? All I’m saying is that many common critiques of the KCA miss the mark because they don’t understand the problem. Just like many attempts at formulating the Problem of Evil failed until after Plantinga, because he formulated the relevant issues more clearly than anyone had before.

I suppose I would rather your commentary on further failed examples of refutations than Craig’s in the videos.  I suppose that’s just being picky though.
 
Ben

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Matthew September 4, 2009 at 3:38 am

 

lukeprog: Yeah, for me that’s one of the biggest WTF moments in Craig’s KCA.

 
 
Craig’s dilemma “an immaterial timeless thing would be an abstract object or an unembodied mind” seems to be some sort of a conceptual truth, relying on prima facie reasoning. I don’t think he goes wrong here, its just that his philosophical arguments for a beginning of time are crap.

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Eneraldo Carneiro September 4, 2009 at 3:40 am

Reginald Selkirk: This makes perfect sense to me. I accept causality on a mesoscopic scale for day-to-day events. What is at issue is whether it also applies at the limits, such as the birth of a Universe. When a greater claim is made, it makes sense to give it greater scrutiny. This fits in with the well-known scientific principle (as expressed, for example, by Carl Sagan) that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

What I would like to see is what Craig will do or say if/when cosmologists figure out that the Universe <b>really</b> came out of  “nothing”, giving to it a naturalistic physical explanation, or it is part of a Benginingless Multiverse.

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Matthew September 4, 2009 at 3:43 am

Toni: Do physical theories really propose, that time and space began to exist with the Big Bang? As far as I know all our mathematical models about the early universe only reach as far as to one planck time after the big bang and describe the expansion of space and time from a extremely dense state, which our models fail to explain. Isn’t the interpretation, that space and time really began to exist with the Big Bang, a premature conclusion? Couldn’t one image a former kind of universe that collapsed into a singularity and reemerged as our universe? And if that is correct, shouldn’t Craig know this, instead of being so vigorously confident?

I think Luke has the chapter from the BCTNT uploaded here, where he has a cosmologist that contributes the part on scientific confirmation. So I don’t see anything wrong with his confidence, he’s not saying he has 100% certainty.

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Steven Carr September 4, 2009 at 4:05 am

LUKE
Craig is an expert on the logical structure of the KCA, on physical theories of cosmogony, on the mathematics of infinity, and so on
 
CARR
So?
So why does Craig never say how a universe can be created?

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Justin Martyr September 4, 2009 at 5:07 am

lukeprog: You mean I should enable pingbacks and trackbacks?

Nope. Search engine friendly URL’s are just human readable URL’s. So this post would be:
http://commonsenseatheism.com/do-not-under-estimate-william-lane-craig/
 
It helps for search engines but I know that I often hover over a link to see the title before I click on it myself. If the title is relevant to what I’m searching for then I’ll click otherwise I may move on to another search result.
 
 

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lukeprog September 4, 2009 at 5:19 am

Toni,

That’s what I thought, but I don’t know. If that’s true, Craig would then depend on his philosophical arguments in support of (2).

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lukeprog September 4, 2009 at 5:21 am

Carr,

Because Craig doesn’t know. “Magic” is no answer at all.

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lukeprog September 4, 2009 at 5:23 am

Justin,

Oh, I understand. I thought about that but I decided I liked having shorter URLs instead. But maybe that was a mistake!

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Reginald Selkirk September 4, 2009 at 6:00 am

lukeprog: Craig is an expert on … the mathematics of infinity

That is questionable, based on discussion in previous threads.
 
 

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Reginald Selkirk September 4, 2009 at 6:03 am

Matthew: Craig’s dilemma “an immaterial timeless thing would be an abstract object or an unembodied mind” seems to be some sort of a conceptual truth, relying on prima facie reasoning. I don’t think he goes wrong here, its just that his philosophical arguments for a beginning of time are crap.

Conceptual truth? Minds are empirically observed in this world. Every time they are empirically observed, they are located in space and time. Any conceptualizing about disembodied minds is medieval BS. It has never been observed, and I cannot imagine it occuring. Note that this is the same criteria Craig applies to an event without a cause: it has never been observed in this world, and he cannot imagine it happening.
(Since we live in a Universe of space and time, nothing timeless or spaceless has ever been observed by anybody.)
 

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lukeprog September 4, 2009 at 6:19 am

Also, Craig is just as talented a debater in fluent German.

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Penneyworth September 4, 2009 at 6:31 am

“…seems to understand the scientific issues better than they do. On top of that, he always understands the philosophical issues better than they do.”
These sweeping assertions are wildy optimistic and would be pretentious even if they were close to the truth. Most of us could come up with enough counter examples to these claims, based on Craig’s debates and books, to fill a book. So could you, and that is why it baffles me that you would say such nonsense. Why is it that you constantly over-credit him with this tone of reverent awe? Is it because you see him as the best contender for the cause of Yahweh, and since he is the best they’ve got, he should be elevated to the same level as those who actually make sound arguments for the sake of some sort of affirmative action? Is it that parental authority and hypnotic, preachy self assurance that he has mastered through years of evangelism? Do you think Christians will be more open to you if they think you are giving them a fair chance seeing as you sing his praises?  Is it his witty little ad hominems that he offers up in his debates to make his fans cheer? Because his arguments do not work. Even his baby, the KCA, falls flat at every turn. The wild assertion that minds can exist out of time and space and with no brain is just one example.
What gives?

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lukeprog September 4, 2009 at 6:32 am

Reginald Selkirk: That is questionable, based on discussion in previous threads.

Just because some mathematicians disagree with him, does not make him a non-expert. There are plenty of philosophers who agree with Craig that infinity is not and cannot be instantiated.

I’m not qualified to answer the question, but if some god who knew the answer held a gun to my head and told me to answer the question, I’d bet against the instantiation of an actual infinite.

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Justin Martyr September 4, 2009 at 7:45 am

Toni: Isn’t the interpretation, that space and time really began to exist with the Big Bang, a premature conclusion? Couldn’t one image a former kind of universe that collapsed into a singularity and reemerged as our universe? And if that is correct, shouldn’t Craig know this, instead of being so vigorously confident?

 
That’s what the oscillating model holds – the universe has been in an infinite cycle of Big Bangs followed by contraction into Big Crunches, and so forth. It was put into serious doubt by Hawking and Penrose’s work on singularities and finally killed off with the discovery of dark energy in 1998.

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John September 4, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Penneyworth you answer your own question.
You make derogatory comments about someone competence, attempt to character assasinate WLC and then pyscho analyze Luke on the emotional reasons he made the post because it just couldn’t be earnest.
Then you call him pretentious!
Luke couldn’t be clearer in that he finds it disengenuous to for people to just call an argument bad because they don’t like the conclusion.
I agree there are some good arguments against the KCA but there are many, many more bad ones across the blogosphere often made by armchair philosophers who can’t even cogently form an analytical argument.  More over, like yourself, they often contain very disconcerting absolutist speak (i.e. falls flat at every turn) that hurts the credibility of the speaker in the first place because it’s clear that emotion is a huge aspect of it in the first place.
I think even if think Christian apologetics is a lost cause and that WLC is moron, people should still at a minimum argue in the formal styles of debate and use proper logical structures in their argument.
Most people just rant and make claims throwing in an example that prima facie sounds crazy so that an actual argument can be avoided altogether.

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Reginald Selkirk September 4, 2009 at 1:14 pm

 

lukeprog: Just because some mathematicians disagree with him, does not make him a non-expert. There are plenty of philosophers who agree with Craig that infinity is not and cannot be instantiated.

Instantiated? Please remind yourself that in this example, Craig claims to have demonstrated a contradiction in the mathematics of infinity using integers, not physical objects.

Rather the contradiction lies in the fact that one can subtract equal quantities from equal quantities and arrive at different answers. For example, if we subtract all the even numbers from all the natural numbers, we get an infi nity of numbers, and if we subtract all the numbers greater than three from all the natural numbers, we get only four numbers. Yet in both cases we subtracted the identical number of numbers from the identical number of numbers and yet did not arrive at an identical result. In fact, one can subtract equal quantities from equal quantities and get any quantity between zero and infinity as the remainder.

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Reginald Selkirk September 4, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Justin Martyr: That’s what the oscillating model holds – the universe has been in an infinite cycle of Big Bangs followed by contraction into Big Crunches, and so forth. It was put into serious doubt by Hawking and Penrose’s work on singularities and finally killed off with the discovery of dark energy in 1998.

That the current version of the Universe appears to be ever-expanding does not establish that prior universes could not have preceded the Big Bang in an oscillating fashion, but it certainly dampens the enthusiasm for that model.
 

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Heliopolitan September 4, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Luke, like some of the others, I think you are crediting WLC with understanding more than he actually does. He is indeed a very very skilled debater, but that is not what really cuts the mustard. I have no problem with the arguments over infinity; it seems very clear that from our viewpoint within the universe, and subject to time, that the universe “began” to exist.
But the premise that “everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence” IS an unsupported one, regardless of how one views Craig’s wildly extrapolated consequences of his argument. Can you in fact name *ANYTHING* that begins to exist?
You might suggest a chair. I would say NO. If you make a chair, all you do is reposition a bunch of atoms which originally had one set of relationships into a new set of relationships. You simply change a system. Indeed, the best you can do with this premise is to say that any state of a system must have an antecedent state – and that system could be as big as you like – incorporating you, the gods, and whatever else.
But it’s worse than that for Craig and the Kalamites. The “laws of physics” are essentially the mathematical rules whereby one state of the universe is transformed into another state, a bit like Conway’s Game of Life. But the state itself can be represented by a number (a pretty big one), which (a la Max Tegmark and others) is also a mathematical object.
So if you’re trying to suggest that any element of a mathematical series (which is what our universe looks like in this model) must necessarily have an antecedent element, well, we can quite simply point you to examples such as the Fibonacci sequence where that is just not the case, or to the Game of Life itself, where the seed value can be entirely arbitrary. Oddly, the critters inside such a game (which is, incidentally, potentially Turing-complete), would experience “Life-time” quite irrespective of what is going on in our own universe – all we are really doing is getting a window into their world, their system.
So, Kalam certainly does not allow us to use the word “cause” in a rigid sense, and if anything, it points to the universe being a mathematically abstract object (hence “eternal”, which is NOT the same as “infinitely old”), just like an instance of the Game of Life.
Potentially this could remove the need for a singularity at the Big Bang, which would be interesting, but it also removes any need for a god, without appeal to multiverses that “really” exist – any universe only “exists” from the viewpoint of the self-aware substructures within it.
 
Google: Max Tegmark Mathematical Universe Hypothesis.

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lukeprog September 4, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Reginald,

Craig argues that while an actual infinite may be mathematically possible or conceptually possible, it is not metaphysically possible. That means an actual infinite cannot be instantiated, among other things.

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faithlessgod September 5, 2009 at 4:50 am

I find the various pro and con Kalaam arguments generally besides the point.
The point that annihilates Craig’s conclusion over a personal creator is that only such a person can have free will, and only such a free will is necessary to start the universe, as Craig so argues. However this free will is quite incoherent, especially in this particular argument.  How can a timeless, eternal, changeless entity have free will and if it does then this must be uncaused, yet this is just another name for random (which literally means uncaused), yet it was because Craig argued against a random start to the universe that he thought justified the invocation of a personal (whatever the hell that could possibly mean here anyway) becuase only such a being has free will. You can grant all the rest of his argument but it collapses here. Once cannot logically deduce a personal creator from the Kalam. Indeed applying the same standard of reasong that Craig supposes,  the Kalam shows that a personal creator is logically impossible.
 

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Reginald Selkirk September 5, 2009 at 10:21 am

lukeprog: Craig argues that while an actual infinite may be mathematically possible or conceptually possible, it is not metaphysically possible. That means an actual infinite cannot be instantiated, among other things.

I repeat, for the last time: he claims to have shot down an entire field of mathematics, using integers, not “instantiated objects.” I think that disqualifies him as an expert on mathematics.
 

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lukeprog September 5, 2009 at 11:13 am

 

Reginald Selkirk: I repeat, for the last time: he claims to have shot down an entire field of mathematics, using integers, not “instantiated objects.” I think that disqualifies him as an expert on mathematics.

No. Craig is explicit on this in his 2009 article:

When we use the word “exist,” we mean “be instantiated in the mind-independent world.” We are inquiring whether that are extratheoretical correlates to the terms used in our mathematical theories. We thereby hope to differentiate the sense in which existence is denied to the actual infinite in (2.11) from what is often called “mathematical existence.” Kasner and Newman strongly differentiate the two when they assert, “‘Existence’ in the mathematical sense is wholly different from the existence of objects in the physical world” (Kasner & Newman 1940, p. 61). “Mathematical existence” is frequently understood as roughly synonymous with “mathematical legitimacy.” Historically, certain mathematical concepts have been viewed with suspicion and, therefore, initially denied legitimacy in mathematics. Most famous of these are the complex numbers… To say that complex numbers exist in the mathematical sense is simply to say that they are legitimate mathematical notions; they are in that sense as “real” as the real numbers. Even negative numbers and zero had to fight to win mathematical existence. The actual infinite has, similarly, had to struggle for mathematical legitimacy. For many thinkers, a commitment to the mathematical legitimacy of some notion does not bring with it a commitment to the existence of the relevant entity in the non-mathematical sense. For formalist defenders of the actual infinite such as Hilbert, mere logical consistency was sufficient for existence in the mathematical sense. At the same time, Hilbert denied that the actual infinite is anywhere instantiated in reality. Clearly, for such thinkers, there is a differentiation between mathematical existence and existence in the everyday sense of the word. We are not here endorsing two modes of existence but simply alerting readers to the equivocal way in which “existence” is often used in mathematical discussions, lest the denial of existence of the actual infinite (2.11) be misunderstood to be a denial of the mathematical legitimacy of the actual infinite.

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Heuristics September 5, 2009 at 12:50 pm

faithlessgod: I find the various pro and con Kalaam arguments generally besides the point. The point that annihilates Craig’s conclusion over a personal creator is that only such a person can have free will, and only such a free will is necessary to start the universe, as Craig so argues. However this free will is quite incoherent, especially in this particular argument.  How can a timeless, eternal, changeless entity have free will and if it does then this must be uncaused, yet this is just another name for random (which literally means uncaused), yet it was because Craig argued against a random start to the universe that he thought justified the invocation of a personal (whatever the hell that could possibly mean here anyway) becuase only such a being has free will. You can grant all the rest of his argument but it collapses here. Once cannot logically deduce a personal creator from the Kalam. Indeed applying the same standard of reasong that Craig supposes,  the Kalam shows that a personal creator is logically impossible.

Free will is does not mean randomness. Randomness does not mean uncaused. Randomness means unpredictible, basicly that it does not conform to any statistical distribution that would cause one part of the stream of data to be more likely then other parts. It is therefore tightly coupled to predictability and as the compatabilists claim in regards to free will, not even determinism (or total non randomness) is a threat to free will.

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Lamplighter Jones September 5, 2009 at 1:23 pm

It’s interesting to contrast the above quote with Craig and Sinclair’s reasoning concerning an infinite sequence of past events.
 
 
Given the explanation

When we use the word “exist,” we mean “be instantiated in the mind-independent world.”

one would think that a reductio ad absurdum argument against the existence of a thing should use only mind-independent properties of that thing.  On P. 116, Craig and Sinclair write

If we mentally take away all the odd-numbered events, there are still an infinite number
of events left over; but if we take away all the events greater than three, there are only four
events left, even though in both cases we took away the same number of events.

The key phrase above is “mentally take away.”  In this argument, Craig and Sinclair are using mind dependent properties of time: one can only imagine “taking away” a collection of times from another collection of times.  (And even then, it’s not really clear what it means to imagine an infinite collection of times.)
 
 
One might respond that the fact that a thing has a given mind-dependent property can itself be a fact about the mind-independent world, but such a response could make mathematical objects subject to the same kind of metaphysical reasoning in the KCA, negating the distinction Craig and Sinclair make above.

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Lee A. P. September 5, 2009 at 6:14 pm

[quote]NO. If you make a chair, all you do is reposition a bunch of atoms which originally had one set of relationships into a new set of relationships. You simply change a system. Indeed, the best you can do with this premise is to say that any state of a system must have an antecedent state – and that system could be as big as you like – incorporating you, the gods, and whatever else.[/quote]

This is why I think that a pantheistic argument is clearly on a firmer rational ground. There is no such thing as nothing. Something has always existed.

Christians like Craig claim God existed and thenn just whipped something up out of nothing. It is magical thinking plain and simple. They cannot have God making stuff using himself because that is pantheism. They need a distinction between God and his awesome yet feeble (in comparison to him) creation.

Someone help me out. Every time I mention this in Christian or atheistic disuccion forums it is ignored. How is a pantheistic explanation not a more reasonable one? There is no something form nothing. No magical thinking. Just an eternal form who changes and forms things into different forms.

This is not an explanation I buy into, but I think it is a better one than the monotheistic explanation. I read a review of the Blackwell Companion that says the book destroys panthiestic and monistic arguments. I’f like to know how they did it.

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Heliopolitan September 6, 2009 at 10:54 am

Hi Luke,
 
Yes, you’re right, and I think for a lot of the same reasons I came to. God (at least, Craig’s Kalamopixie) can’t be separate from his creation, because immediately that implies a higher-order reality in which both the god and the creation can exist. Something has to be non-god (eat that, Plantinga, for your “omnipresent” joke in your silly reformulation of the ontological fallacy! ;-), and that has to be the creation at the very least. And what else? Hell, I suppose, although I’m not sure whether Bill or Al believe in that nonsense any more. Oh noes! Kalam refutes Hell and confirms pantheism WTFOMGLOL.
 
As it is, the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis is itself a sort of pantheism (depending on how one defines “god”), but I think it’s unnecessary to go down that line. We know that the universe can support a Turing-complete system, so by definition the universe (this one) is Turing complete; other Turing-complete universes exist – zillions of ‘em. The rules that govern the Game of Life allow for Turing-complete solutions, so I would argue that GoLs represent bona fide universes. It’s just that for our universe, the factors that govern its evolution seem a tad more complicated.
 
But that is digressing. Bill’s *definition* of “exist” seems to have some problems up there. What does “instantiated in the real world” mean wrt the Universe, when the Universe is what we MEAN by the “real world”? No – Kalam is hopelessly in error, but not because of the refutation of an infinite existence of the universe (which is a trivial point, I think).
 
But it comes back to my point of “begins to exist” – I’d like some examples of things that “begin to exist”, since all we see with normal objects is a rearrangement of the interactions of parts, and even for subatomic particles etc, current thinking is that these are themselves warps and wiggles in spacetime, so they’re relationny things too. NOTHING “begins to exist” when we hit the microscopic – all we see is the evolution of a (very complex) system. Craig’s argument, as I’ve mentioned, simply boils down to “every state of a system has an antecedent state” – and since we are dealing with a system that had an *initial state*, it’s not at all clear that a “cause” is what we should be looking for, rather than an *explanation*.
 
And as “explanations” go, Kalamopixie isn’t there; the MUH is a much more satisfying candidate (in my opinion).
 
Incidentally, folks, I’m doing a sponsored cycle ride in November from Muslim Jordan to Jewish Israel to raise money for a Christian hospital, and I’m an Atheist. Click my name above to support this beautiful absurdity :-) Thanks! Luke, keep up the blog – it’s fantastic.
 
-Shane (different one)

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Taranu September 6, 2009 at 11:47 am

@heliopolitan:
“God (at least, Craig’s Kalamopixie) can’t be separate from his creation, because immediately that implies a higher-order reality in which both the god and the creation can exist.”
 
Could you please expand on that a bit? I’m not sure I understand what you mean.
 

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Justin Martyr September 6, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Reginald Selkirk: That the current version of the Universe appears to be ever-expanding does not establish that prior universes could not have preceded the Big Bang in an oscillating fashion, but it certainly dampens the enthusiasm for that model.

 
Wrong, it falsifies the physics of the oscillating model. The discovery of dark energy proves that the cosmological constant is positive. The only way the universe can collapse is if the cosmological constant is negative. The oscillating model does not have a mechanism to change the cosmological constant anymore than it has a mechanism to change the gravitational constant.

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Heliopolitan September 6, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Hi Taranu,:
Heliopolitan: “God (at least, Craig’s Kalamopixie) can’t be separate from his creation, because immediately that implies a higher-order reality in which both the god and the creation can exist.” 

This sorta goes to Set Theory. If the Kalamopixie (K) is fundamental, then the set of Everything (call it “U”) must at the very least be a subset of K. But if we find that there exists a set within U that is *outwith* K, then K cannot contain U (are you with me so far?); there must be a “super-set” that contains both K and the non-K elements of U, so our ontology has to shimmy up a level – to a level *above* K, meaning that K cannot be invoked as a catch-all for everything.
 
Is that any clearer (maybe not!)
Cheers,
-H

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Taranu September 6, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Heliopolitan thanks. I will take a deeper look into set theory.

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faithlessgod September 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Heuristics: Free will is does not mean randomness. Randomness does not mean uncaused. Randomness means unpredictible, basicly that it does not conform to any statistical distribution that would cause one part of the stream of data to be more likely then other parts. It is therefore tightly coupled to predictability and as the compatabilists claim in regards to free will, not even determinism (or total non randomness) is a threat to free will.

Hi Hueristics.

I have to be quick here. I am talking about free will in this particular scenario.  However the pre-universe “conditions” under which the universe was “personally created” render any coherent concept of free will meaningless. No “being” or “entity” could had free will in a timeless, eternal and changeless (pre-universe) cosmos. It is a logical impossibility so Craig’s argument is incoherent.

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Reginald Selkirk September 7, 2009 at 5:15 am

Justin Martyr: Wrong, it falsifies the physics of the oscillating model. The discovery of dark energy proves that the cosmological constant is positive.

Only if your version of the theory insisted that the laws of physics are identical in all iterations of the oscillating universe.
 

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Justin Martyr September 7, 2009 at 6:40 am

Reginald Selkirk: Only if your version of the theory insisted that the laws of physics are identical in all iterations of the oscillating universe.

 
It’s not “my version.” There is no mechanism in the mathematical model of the oscillating universe that allows the cosmological constant to change. If there is some updated model that allows this happen then I’d love to see a scientific reference. Otherwise all you are doing is pinning your hopes to a dead theory.

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Modusoperandi September 8, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Forgive me for being both late to the party and commenting on a comment that’s a little off-topic, but…
Taranu “Regarding the Old Testament, unlike other apologists, Craig says that the Jews were wrong when they did immoral things and claimed that God told them to do so.”
Really? It seems to me that he does the opposite, but without more specific citations about what the post-hoc commands were, your comment reminded me of this where he says;

“According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.”

&

“…since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.” (emphasis his)

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gallus1 September 24, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I dont hold the same respect for Craigs’ arguments. The soundness of his cosmological reasoning does not prove the existance of a Creator. Granted, he uses his scientific knowledge and creates a rationale. Many ‘wrong’ arguments can be constructed this way. That aside, there seems an awful lot of mental gymnasticts involved in creating a believable theory. Does God require us to be physicists in order to be privvy to his awe? Not being an intellectual myself, I need only read of the horrors this entity performed himself, and commanded done in his name, to make a ‘reasoned’ argument of his immorality. His existence is similarly dismissed in simple terms. Craigs only answer to God’s horrors was that those people he killed (men women and children)via pestalences etc dont matter, that God can do as he wants! Well, if God made me as i am, then i demand and am entitled to some kind of reasoning for these genocidal episodes…i treat with contempt those such as Craig (however fancy his physics are) who’d palm it off as nothing to do with me, or “he works in mysterious ways”….arse!

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Moorean October 27, 2009 at 6:12 am

These objections are the typical objections Luke is referencing.When are you’ll going to read a book by Craig, and stop using Dan Barker’s Stuff?

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faithlessgod October 30, 2009 at 12:44 am

Moorean

I dunno about the others but I have looked and not found any defeater for my free will point in any of Craig’s writings online. And I have not read Dan Barker. Do you have a link?

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oarobin October 30, 2009 at 10:41 am

i am astonish at the claims made here about william lane craig and his KCA.
firstly any popular understanding of scientific arguments will show it utterly unsound.

here is victor stenger’s straightforward answers to the argument.

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
A. false. virtual particles pop into and out of existence all they while without cause.
i.e. in a region of space devoid of any matter or radiation (a vacuum) virtuals particles of electrons
position pairs are created and destroy themselves. the physical effects are observed in the
casimir effect.

2. the universe has a beginning
A. false. the universe is not known to have a beginning. The “big-bang” is a theory about the
expansion of the universe. it is a misconception (even by professional physicist and some astronomers) that
the universe began at the big bang. the popularly cited arguments by stephen hawkings and roger penrose ignored
Quantum mechanical effects at the planck scale and is therefore incorrect.
see “Misconceptions about the Big Bang” by Charles H. Lineweaver and Tamara M. Davis.
“Origin of the Universe” by S.W. Hawking.

3.Therefore, the universe has a cause.
A. possible but unjustified by arguments 1 & 2 above.

4&5. unjustified also. how is it an inference even if 1-3 above is true that the cause is “uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists,
who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful?”
how is it that the cause in 4&5 is a better alternative than String theory D-brane options for the big bang, cyclic universes,
Ekpyrotic universe etc and the other numerous speculation from astronomers? those properties are poorly motivated and unjustified.

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oarobin October 30, 2009 at 4:37 pm

for a more fuller explanation of my point above read or listen to:

http://www.dbskeptic.com/2009/03/15/a-critical-examination-of-the-kalam-cosmological-argument/

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lukeprog October 30, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Quentin Smith and Craig had an interesting exchange on virtual particles in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology.

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Marco November 26, 2009 at 4:49 am

I personally would go for the argument that oarobin gives that the principle of causation has only been verified or made plausible when it refers to our timely spacey universe. What causes universes in total might for all we know be a wrong question. This whole Kalam cosmological argument makes the mistake that switching between internal time-space principles and talk about the origin off time-space itself makes sense. It might be that it does, but one cannot assume it from the beginning of an argument.

Have you noticed by the way how Craig dodges the last question in the last video by switching from the question about the falsifiability of the whole argument to the verifiability of premise 4 (the universe as beginning)? In any case, he didn’t address the question.
The upshot of the question would have been that the whole Kalam argument makes metaphysical statements that as a scientists you just have to shrug your shoulders over.

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Marco November 28, 2009 at 10:30 am

Taking the first three premisses of the KCA to be valid, this is how a follow up would go:

1. Unique systems with unique parts and processes can’t have been caused by processes that operate inside the system.

(Otherwise the moment of popping into existence wouldn’t be unique.)

2. The universe is a unique system with unique parts and processes if it’s been caused from nothing.

3. The universe has been caused from nothing.

4. Physical causes, mental causes, spiritual causes or personal causes are (if anything) causes that exist in our universe.

5. The universe is not caused by physical, mental, spiritual or personal causes.

5. God is a spiritual, personal entity that hence gives rise to personal, spiritual causes.

6. God can’t have caused the universe.

The anti-kalam argument ©

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