Craig’s Eight Arguments for God, Part VIII: “The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists”
My examinations of Craig’s previous six arguments have not gone well for him at all. Will Craig finally score a point with his present case? Let’s dive in and find out.
Craig begins his seventh argument by explaining one of its key premises:
In order to understand this argument, you need to understand what philosophers mean by ‘possible worlds’. A possible world is just a way the world might have been. It is a description of a possible reality. So a possible world is not a planet or a universe or any kind of concrete object, it is a world-description.
So-called “possible worlds” semantics essentially goes like this: “Yeah, the world is this way, and that’s true, there’s no denying that. But if we take what we imagine seriously, we can pretend that the world could have been otherwise, and then we can deduce whatever we want to believe from what we imagine.”
A major contributing factor to this bizarre and emphatically irrational approach to understanding the world, is the error of supposing that whatever we can imagine must therefore be “possible.” I know that human beings need to breathe air, for example. But I can imagine human beings breathing seawater. So on the “possible worlds” premise that what we imagine must be treated as a possibility of sorts, we must accept as a possibility that human beings could breathe seawater, with the added caveat that this “possibility” presumes “if things were different” (which of course they are not).
Nestled within this form of pseudo-philosophy is some kind of dissatisfaction with how the world actually is any accepting facts as they really are. The notion of “possible worlds” taken seriously in philosophical discussions represents a rejection of reality in preference for some imagined alternative. No doubt Craig is quite familiar with this kind of discourse and has accepted the premise that it has philosophical legitimacy.
The actual world is the description that is true.
The important point to keep in mind here is that there is a fundamental distinction between the world which actually exists and a world which one merely imagines as an alternative to what actually exists. What is actually the case should concern philosophers; let playwrights and screenwriters concern themselves with fantasies. But the notion of “possible worlds” only allows philosophers to evade what actually exists, for whatever reason. Typically they have some confessional investment that they want to protect in spite of their suppressed recognition that it is not supported by the facts we find in the world when we look outward. So they treat alternatives that they create in their imaginations when they look inward and treat them, with their highfalutin language games, as though they should be entertained as serious possibilities.
Other possible worlds are descriptions that are not in fact true but which might have been true.
More than one theist has explained to me (and I suspect this is straight out of today’s philosophy departments) that, if one can conceive of something, then it is accepted as a “possibility.” I take this to mean that: if one can imagine something, that imagined something is thereby deemed “possible.” Such a view grants tremendous authoritative power to the imagination. To say “X is possible because I can ‘conceive’ it” is to underwrite the very concept of ‘possibility’ with fantasies instead of evidence. What could possibly justify such a move?
So-called “possible worlds semantics” is an offshoot of analytic philosophy (Anal Phil) and, more specifically, one of the insidious expressions of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, and the presumption of the primacy of consciousness undergirding the notion of “possible worlds” can arguably be traced to this widely popular tradition in academia. A review of a 2005 lecture (which, unfortunately, is apparently no longer on the web) by Objectivist philosopher David Kelley of The Objectivist Center (TOC) brings out the following points:
TOC executive director David Kelley kicked off the advanced seminar by inviting participants to join him in identifying the essential methods of contemporary "analytic" philosophy. In the course of his presentation, Kelley argued that implicit in analytic philosophy's methods is a commitment to the primacy of consciousness, a commitment evident in the way many philosophers elevate formal logic and linguistic theory over the data of the senses. This commitment to the primacy of consciousness also results in a tendency to explore arbitrary thought experiments and to stipulate arbitrary definitions, Kelley said, as well as in the widespread overuse of formal deduction and the concomitant lack of attention to induction. And the commitment is evident, too, in the belief common among analytic philosophers that it is meaningful to speak about the "logical possibility" of "other worlds," that is, other realities. Kelley argued that only the primacy of consciousness, which holds that language and thought can exist prior to or apart from any awareness of reality, can explain the use of all these methods. But, he went on to note, this is a point about the method and not the substance of a philosopher's views: many analytic philosophers hold that knowledge and values have factual bases; the problem is that they arrive at their conclusions by means of implicitly subjective methods.
To say that something exists in some possible world is to say that there is some consistent description of reality which includes that entity.
And indeed, what qualifies as a “consistent description of reality” when the very concept of possibility is governed by whatever we might happen to imagine? If I say that a 900-foot Jesus walking through a park in San Antonio is “possible” because I claim to have “some consistent description of reality which includes that entity,” how does that fly? Why should anyone take such a claim seriously? Craig offers no defense of this stuff; rather, he just affirms it as his major premise as if it should be swallowed whole in a completely thoughtless manner, like Abraham thoughtlessly obeying the commandment to prepare his own son as a burnt sacrifice. The biblical worldview inbreeds some seriously bad mental habits.
Craig goes on:
To say that something exists in every possible world means that no matter which description is true, that entity will be included in the description. For example, unicorns do not in fact exist, but there are some possible worlds in which unicorns exist. On the other hand, many mathematicians think that numbers exist in every possible world.
Notice also that there is no room for an epistemological method which goes exclusively by virtue of the evidence we can find in the world by means of looking outward. The approach Craig prefers here (and which he would need to take in the first place), consists of giving primacy to looking inward - consulting what one “discovers” when he deduces from arbitrary premises which ultimately spring from the imagination and to which the world – via a “description” which is deemed to be “true” most likely through the same kind of default elimination process that we saw in Craig’s previous arguments – must somehow conform. But reality does not conform to descriptions of it. Rather, our descriptions of reality – if they are to be true and accurate – must conform to what we discover in the world. Craig’s approach here is sheerly subjective in nature. But he passes it off as though it had philosophical legitimacy. It has none.
Now with that in mind, consider the ontological argument, which was discovered in the year 1011 by the monk Anselm of Canterbury.
God, Anselm observes, is by definition the greatest being conceivable. If you could conceive of anything greater than God, then that would be God. Thus, God is the greatest conceivable being – a maximally great being.
So what would such a being be like? He would be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, and He would exist in every logically possible world. A being which lacked any of those properties would not be maximally great: we could conceive of something greater – a being which did have all these properties.
But this implies that if God’s existence is even possible, then God must exist. For if a maximally great being exists in any possible world, He exists in all of them. That’s part of what it means to be maximally great – to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good in every logically possible world. So if God’s existence is even possible, then He exists in every logically possible world – and therefore in the actual world.
We can conclude, then, that Craig’s seventh argument is as weak as they come. From the very beginning and through to the end Craig’s entire procedure rests on treating the imaginary as though it were on some par – or greater – with reality, and treating reality as though it must conform to what we discover in our imaginations (whose terms he gets to set). If Craig had any objective substance on behalf of his god-belief, he would not need to resort to such embarrassing gimmickry. But if his theism is merely another fantasy among many, then he’s right on schedule – as predictable as a child stomping off in a fit of crying when he’s told to clean his room.
So that’s seven out of eight arguments so far that Craig has lost. But there’s still one more. It’s looking quite dim, but can he salvage his one last chance to finally bring this home on behalf of his religious faith? Stay tuned and I shall get to Craig’s final case shortly.
by Dawson Bethrick