Craig’s Eight Arguments for God, Part II: “God is the best explanation why anything at all exists”
I am now posting my own criticisms of Craig's arguments through a series of entries on my blog. This is the second post in this series and it will deal with Craig's first argument. The first post in this series can be found here.
As I read through Craig’s article, I saw so many holes in his arguments that, were he not so arrogant and self-promoting, I’d almost feel embarrassed for him. But given the fact that he has essentially made a career of getting on stages before fawning audiences and bamboozling them with outright lies to continue in their religious delusions, I can only take delight in the fact that I have philosophically immunized myself from such contrivances.
Craig’s first argument is, apparently, offered in defense of the following thesis:
(I) God is the best explanation why anything at all exists.
Consider: To explain why something is the case, one must point to antecedent factors which are thought to be responsible for bringing about what is being explained. If one asks why a forest has grown in a particular valley, for example, we can survey the geological structure of the valley, discover its water sources, identify its particular flora and fauna, measure its climatic patterns, etc., and generate a theory based on these and other relevant factors that we might discover.
But when we get to existence as such, what antecedent factors could be available? If we point to any antecedent factors in a proposed explanation, we would have to ask: Do they exist? If these factors do exist (or did at some point in the past), they would be part of what needs to be explained. If they do not exist and never existed, how could they serve as antecedent factors giving rise to anything? Blank out.
In this way, Craig’s claim that “God is the best explanation why anything at all exists” simply rests on stolen concepts. Moreover, does pointing to “God” explain “why God exists”? So long as the believer claims that his god exists, any attempt to answer the question “Why does anything exist?” would have to apply to the believer’s god as well as anything else. Otherwise he’s indulging in mere special pleading.
For a theist to simply assert that a particular being “exists necessarily” begs the question, for the very existence of said being is what’s in question in the first place. Meanwhile, it would not address the very question Craig raises. The question “Why does anything exist?” cannot be satisfied by pointing to some being whose existence is characterized as “necessary,” for this would not explain why the allegedly necessary being exists. But such fallacious maneuvering is what Craig ends up asserting, essentially trying to stipulate his god into existence by pulling definitions out of thin air. We know that existence exists, and we also know that it is conceptually absurd to try to explain things by reference to things that are not real. One would only need to “explain” existence if one starts with non-existence, and yet there is no conceptually sound reason for doing this. Existence exists.
But let’s examine what he says more closely to see if these initial impressions are justified or mistaken. I advise that we exercise caution, though, as Craig plays fast and loose with his terminology, thus allowing him to hide his tracks once he plies his circuitous gimmickry.
Craig seeks to make his point home by introducing an analogy. He writes:
Suppose you were hiking through the forest and came upon a ball lying on the ground. You would naturally wonder how it came to be there. If your hiking buddy said to you, “Forget about it! It just exists!” you would think he was either joking or just wanted you to keep moving. No one would take seriously the idea that the ball just exists without any explanation.
By contrast, suppose the hikers were walking along in the forest and one of them sees a plant growing out of the ground. One of the hikers stops and says, “Wow! How did this get here?” The other hiker might be puzzled at first; after all, there are plants all around. Is there something unique about this plant? Upon examination, it looks like other plants they’ve seen all day. The point is that a plant does not appear out of place in the context of a forest setting. Craig’s scenario about the ball found by hikers in a forest deliberately involves something that’s out of place, and it is because it is out of place that an explanation is desired. This does not mean that particular things which we find in the world, such as a plant growing in a forest, are without explanation. What’s noteworthy here is that Craig chooses something that is man-made and has deliberately placed it in a context which raises the question he wants to focus on. Man-made objects are not like plants that grow in the wild; unlike plants, man-made objects do not grow naturally in forests. But plants do.
Craig then says:
Now notice than [sic] merely increasing the size of the ball until it becomes coextensive with the universe does nothing to either provide, or remove the need for, an explanation of its existence.
But do we suppose that the universe as such is out of place? Perhaps Craig does, but I certainly do not. A thing appears out of place because of its surrounding context – e.g., a basketball against the surrounding of a wild, natural environment like a forest. But if we increase the ball’s size “until it becomes coextensive with the universe,” do we also increase the size of the forest in which it was found? Craig does not suggest this. Rather, his scenario has us imagine something that we already know is man-made to be the size of the universe and to ignore everything else (including the original context in which the ball he has in mind was originally found). Craig chooses a man-made object so that he can slip an illicit premise past us – namely the assumption that the universe is analogous to the ball in that it too is a product of some creative action. But if we choose to enlarge the ball, why should we not at the same time enlarge everything else found in the suggested scenario, including the surroundings that made the ball seem out of place to begin with? Indeed, we would have to enlarge everything else implied in Craig’s scenario that contextually gives rise to the call for an explanation in the first place, including not only the forest in which the hikers found it, but also the people and the mechanisms by which the ball was manufactured. Otherwise Craig is simply context-dropping at this point. It is then that his question commits the fallacy of the stolen concept when he asks for an explanation of the universe on this basis since the underlying context omits key conditions which are needed to make the call for an explanation conceptually valid. His “argument” at this point, then, essentially becomes: if the ball is the product of creative activity, then so is the universe. But this clearly does not logically follow. Not in the least!
So the question at this point becomes: Does the universe seem out of place (like a ball found in the middle of the forest)? If the ball is analogous to the universe (as Craig’s scenario would have it), what is analogous to the forest surroundings in Craig’s scenario once we increase the ball’s size “until it becomes coextensive with the universe” such that the ball still seems out of place and thus requires an explanation? Craig does not say.
Could it be the case that Craig’s requirement for an explanation has swapped “out-of-placeness” for its “man-madeness” as its underlying distinction? This Craig is a crafty fellow! But not very crafty, since while we do expect to explain man-made objects in terms of antecedent causes given the fact that they’re man-made (indeed, we point to those men who made them and the means by which they made them), I see no reason to suppose that the universe, which is clearly not man-made, is out of place and therefore in need of explanation in terms of antecedent causes. And beyond his overtly contrived context-dropping, Craig gives no reason for supposing that the universe is somehow out of place. Moreover, people make things like balls out of pre-existing materials, and they make them through physical processes which take know-how, energy, tools, effort, the potential for making mistakes, purpose, etc., all of which can only be denied one way or another once we increase the size of the ball “until it becomes coextensive with the universe” while ignoring everything else that makes up the original context of the scenario.
So while Craig is clearly attempting to build his case for the need for an explanation on the basis of an analogy, the analogy breaks down entirely as soon as he touches it.
So what is the explanation of the existence of the universe (by ‘the universe’ I mean all of spacetime reality)?
But isn’t Craig shifting focus here? Originally his thesis had to do with proposing an “explanation why anything at all exists.” But now he’s talking about “the universe” which he defines in such a way as to allow for things which, in his worldview, would exist outside the universe. But if the question he’s exploring revolves around finding an “explanation why anything at all exists,” he wanders off topic by focusing on “the universe” as he defines it, for it is not all-inclusive of “anything at all [that] exists.” Craig’s conception of ‘universe’ would of course include all matter; but presumably it is contrived in such a way as to exclude things like numbers, concepts, and other psychological phenomena (even things we imagine – do imaginary things exist in “spacetime”? Some believers actually think that imaginary things do in fact exist – cf. this offering from Peter Pike – but they certainly would not be material in nature).
Also, where does Craig offer any support for the underlying premise that “all of spacetime reality” needs an explanation in terms of antecedent causes? Indeed, if causation requires a thing that acts (and it’s hard to see how one might suppose it would not), then it’s unclear how any antecedent cause would automatically be excluded from “all of spacetime reality,” especially since causation necessarily involves action and action necessarily implies time. Indeed, depending on what “spacetime” is supposed to mean, we should ask: is causation even possible outside of (or “prior to”) “all of spacetime reality”? And even though this question will become relevant later, nothing he offers is helpful in clearing up such questions – it’s just one of the many issues for which he doesn’t give any explanation at all!
A bit below this, in the points Craig offers to summarize his case, he says that “the universe is a contingent thing.” So the universe in Craig’s view is a thing. But we know that many things exist. If the universe is a single thing, then apparently Craig can explain the existence of only one thing by his appeals. By contrast, reality as such is not a single thing, but a vast collection of things. Thus a careful approach would take this fact into account, namely that there are in fact many things which exist, and consequently the philosophical question which Craig has raised pertains to the sum total of everything that exists. The sum total of all that exists would be just that – the sum total of all that exists. It would include everything that exists (cf. Craig’s “anything at all [that] exists”). Whatever does in fact exist would be included in this sum totality, and there could be no actually existing thing that exists outside that sum totality. But Craig does not seem to be focused on the sum total picture, even though his initial question – i.e., “why anything at all exists” – would require this if he genuinely thought this were a worthy interest to pursue. By fragmenting the sum totality into different parts or categories, Craig is losing focus on his initial question. Or, more likely, he hopes his audience has lost their trail back to the original point of discussion. An honest thinker would not do this, and a rational position would not need a defense which relies on such subterfuge.
It is important to note at this point that Craig does in fact indicate that he can be satisfied with something existing while not needing an explanation of its existence. In other words, Craig is happy to suppose that there is such a thing as a metaphysically necessary state of affairs which has no antecedent causes. But this would invalidate Craig’s initial question – “why anything at all exists” – from the very outset: it would show that such a question is fallaciously complex. But Craig does not acknowledge this. Nor does he explain why the sum total of all that exists cannot constitute this metaphysically necessary state of affairs. But in fact, Craig wants his cake, and to eat it, too. That is, on the one hand he wants to treat the question that everything needs an explanation as though it were free of any conceptual defects, and yet on the other he thinks this question can be satisfied by pointing to something that does not need any explanation.
Why not simply start with the fact that existence exists and recognize that existence is “metaphysically necessary” (meaning that it would not itself need explaining)? This of course is conceptually air-tight: one could not point to any antecedent factors if one has the sum total of existence in mind. Since causality is the law of identity applied to action (i.e., actions are distinct from other existents), and since action requires something which does the acting, existence is a necessary precondition for causality. One cannot suppose that existence as such is a product of some prior cause, for this would commit the fallacy of the stolen concept: it would be making use of a concept (in this case, the concept ‘cause’) while ignoring or denying its genetic roots (namely some existent which does the causing). So beginning with the fact that existence exists is the only rational starting point.
However, I’m confident that Craig would not accept this and would in fact try to find a way to undermine it, since he really wants to begin with a form of consciousness instead of existence as such. If one begins with the fact that existence exists, then we would recognize quite quickly that existence exists independent of conscious activity, which would of course leave no room for a god; Craig’s god would be without a job because Craig wants to posit a god which “created” the universe (i.e., that which actually exists) by an act of consciousness. But notice how deeply Craig’s entire venture is mired in stolen concepts, context-dropping, special pleading, an intensely weak analogy, and other fallacious moves. I’m not a “professional philosopher,” but even I can detect these problems.
The explanation of the universe can lie only in a transcendent reality beyond it – beyond space and time – the existence of which transcendent reality is metaphysically necessary (otherwise its existence would also need explaining).
But suppose we try to take Craig seriously here. In that case, we would need to apply reliable methodology to determine whether or not Craig’s dichotomizing of reality has any rational legitimacy going for it. For example, in order to accept an appeal to “a transcendent reality” beyond “all of spacetime reality” as an antecedent factor explaining the latter, we would first need to determine that this “transcendent reality” to which Craig refers exists in the first place. And yet, it seems that Craig is trying to establish its existence on the basis of it satisfying an unsubstantiated requirement on the part of the universe for some antecedent cause. In other words, Craig is trying to infer the existence of this alleged “transcendent reality” on the basis of his characterization of the universe as such. Thus it looks very much like he’s trying to define this “transcendent reality” into existence by his deliberately chosen characterizations and resulting artificial requirements. It does not appear to be the case that Craig has discovered this “transcendent reality” independently of his characterizations of the universe and subsequently determined that the former is an antecedent cause of the latter. Consequently, if this is the methodology Craig uses to justify his dichotomizing of reality, the right thing to do is to dismiss it. Ultimately Craig is trying to explain the known by appealing to an unknown, and yet he does a remarkably poor job of supporting the view that existence, reality, the universe as such, needs any explanation in the first place. Indeed, Craig offers no reason to suppose that the universe is out of place, and he arbitrarily stipulates that his proposed antecedent cause does not need any explanation in terms of any cause antecedent to itself. In fact, Craig has answered no questions. Instead, he’s simply moved the problem back a step, apparently not recognizing the facts that it’s not a legitimate problem to begin with and that he simply compounds the problem by introducing a pretext for questions which he nowhere addresses.
Of course, if by ‘universe’ we mean the sum total of all that exists, then not only does the universe not seem out of place, but also attempts to explain the existence of the universe so understood by reference to some antecedent cause is conceptually fallacious: something would have to exist in order to be an antecedent cause, and yet if that thing exists, it would already be part of the universe. Again, if we start with the fact that existence exists, there is no need for speculations leading from the known to the unknown such as Craig offers here.
Also, what exactly is meant by “transcendent reality”? By what means do we “discover” this alleged “transcendent reality”? Do we discover it by looking outward at the world? Nothing in Craig’s case suggests that we can do this; indeed, it seems that he has defined it in such a way that it could not be something that we can ever discover by looking outward (for it appears that anything we could discover by looking outward would be assigned to the “spacetime reality” category thereby making it “contingent”).
The only alternative to this then would be to “discover” it by looking inward - i.e., by consulting the contents of our conscious activity, whether they be our wishes, preferences, imagination, emotions, etc. But looking inward is not a reliable means of determining the nature of things which exist independent of our conscious activity, for we are consulting our conscious activity explicitly in such a case without any objective guide distinguishing facts from fantasy. Indeed, how can we reliably distinguish what Craig calls “transcendent reality” from something he may merely be imagining? Craig does not even anticipate such questions, and yet they are crucial to the question of the soundness of his case. In fact, we may be forgiven for getting the impression that Craig would not be concerned if readers did substitute what they imagine for facts when considering his “best explanation why anything at all exists.”
Sadly, Craig does not provide us with any indication of what method we can use to discover what he claims to know (independently of his say so), confirm that he has not made any mistakes along the way (are we do to presume that William Lane Craig is infallible?), or ensure that he has not confused what he is merely imagining with what he thinks is real. These are some alarming concerns which Craig nowhere addresses.
Now there is only one way I can think of to get a contingent entity like the universe from a necessarily existing cause, and that is if the cause is an agent who can freely choose to create the contingent reality.
But notice that Craig clearly wants the antecedent cause of the universe to involve some sort of consciousness, for it is something which he says “can freely choose” to do something. The ability to make choices presupposes consciousness. Craig does not identify consciousness explicitly, but he clearly assumes it, and yet he clearly expects this form of consciousness itself to be “necessary” and not “contingent.” He thus wants to posit a form of consciousness which does not need any explanation beyond itself but which “creates” what Craig himself calls “all of spacetime reality.” Thus Craig is actually trying to smuggle the primacy of consciousness into his “explanation.” No surprise here. In fact, Craig is as predictable as a B-grade sci-fi thriller.
Of course, Craig does not explain how consciousness can exist apart from biological structures or anything else which would presumably qualify as part of “spacetime reality.” In fact, Craig apparently thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to simply posit a form of consciousness apart from the universe, outside of “spacetime reality,” and in no need of any explanation, just like that! Specifically, Craig assumes – without any argument whatsoever – that consciousness has no inherently dependent relationship on biology, even though all evidence that we discover by looking outward at reality confirms that such a relationship is indispensable (see for example my blog entry The Biological Nature of Consciousness).
In spite of this, however, by framing his preferred “explanation” as the “only way” he can “think of,” Craig implies that he has done all this fact-checking and research into the matter, considering alternative explanations and eliminating them until he is compelled by the relevant facts to conclude that some conscious agent is responsible for “anything at all [that] exists.” But there’s no indication that I can find that Craig has done anything of the sort. And yet, we’re supposed to just accept his conclusion – and all the unargued assumptions on which it stands – on his mere say-so, backed up perhaps by his impressive diplomas, certificates and prestige.
Notice how Craig’s “explanation” just leads to an entire string of problems which are themselves left without explanation. For example, by what means is this agent conscious of anything? Craig does not explain. How does it see, hear, or feel without a nervous system and sense organs? Craig does not explain. What would this agent be conscious of prior to creating anything? Craig does not explain. How would it create physical objects? Craig does not explain. For what purpose would it “freely choose to create the contingent reality”? Craig does not explain. By what means other than by looking inward into the contents of our imagination can we consider such an agent? Craig does not explain.
Since consciousness is a type of activity in the first place, how can any consciousness be rightfully considered to exist outside “spacetime reality”? Craig does not say. Since the activity which an entity performs is inherently dependent on the nature of the entity which performs that activity, wouldn’t this mean that activity as such is “contingent”? Craig does not address this question either. It’s kept safely out of view. On the one hand, if Craig has considered such questions, he certainly does not encourage his audience to consider them (he certainly does not answer them). On the other, if he has not considered them, then how can his conclusions be considered sound and rationally defensible?
Over and over and over again, the antecedent cause of the universe posited by Craig in his “explanation” raises many fundamental questions which he nowhere addresses. I’d think that if Craig could address these questions, he’d happily be forthcoming about positing a form of consciousness as his explanation. Yet he seems to prefer to bury this beneath a morass of highfalutin terms like ‘transcendent’, ‘agent’, ‘necessarily existing’, ‘contingent’, etc. Thus he can’t hide the fact that he’s trying to hide something.
It therefore follows that the best explanation of the existence of the contingent universe is a transcendent personal being – which is what everybody means by ‘God’.
How does Craig qualify an explanation as “the best explanation”? Can an “explanation” which raises numerous additional questions which it does not itself answer be rightly accepted as “the best explanation”? Can we call an explanation “the best explanation” when it can only be reached by the kind of subterfuge which Craig has foisted on his readers here while simultaneously creating numerous unanswered questions which Craig nowhere even anticipates? Indeed, Craig’s “explanation” is worse than explaining then known by appealing to the unknown. Rather, his “explanation” consists of trying to explain the known by appealing to the merely imaginary. For Craig identifies no means by which we can reliably distinguish what he calls “transcendent reality” and an alleged “agent who can freely choose to create the contingent reality” from what he may merely be imagining.
Craig offers the following points in his summary:
1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a transcendent, personal being.
3. The universe is a contingent thing.
4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence.
What Craig fails to recognize is that the sum total of existence would only need to be explained if one begins with non-existence as such. And yet, there is no justification for such a starting point, nor would anyone starting this way be able to formulate an explanation for the fact that existence exists; he would be conceptually cut off from existence as such. But if we begin with the fact that existence exists, which we know for a fact is the case, then there is no problem and thus no need for an “explanation” which Craig himself cannot provide.
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is a transcendent, personal being. – which is what everybody means by ‘God’.
Unfortunately, Craig’s first argument for his god leaves us where all arguments for a god (including the rest of Craig’s arguments, as we’ll see) leave us: with no alternative but to imagine the god whose existence is said to have been proven. Even worse, Craig’s argument requires us to arbitrarily dichotomize existence into two mutually opposed categories while ignoring what we know about consciousness – such as the facts that consciousness is biological in nature (and therefore dependent on biological structures which make consciousness possible in the first place) and that consciousness does not have the power to zap things into existence, assign them their identity, alter their natures, etc., all by sheer force of will. Craig is apparently comfortable pointing to an “agent” which has the ability to zap the entire universe into existence by an act of consciousness without ever even wincing once over this suggestion. What Craig needs to explain is how a grown adult with all his education can swallow such fictions with a straight face and make a career of deceiving audiences into supposing that such nonsense has any legitimate basis.
But we’re not finished with Craig yet. He still has seven more chances to validate his god-belief.
by Dawson Bethrick