Saturday, March 21, 2015

Craig’s Eight Arguments for God, Part VIII: “The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists”

We now come to William Lane Craig’s seventh argument. This comes from his set of arguments which were published in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Philosophy Now (as opposed to some other time). I have already examined the previous six arguments which Craig published along with the one we’ll be looking at presently. The blog entries in which I interact with those previous six arguments can be found here:
In his seventh argument, Craig seeks to defend the claim that “The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.” Now as absurd as this sounds, Craig is apparently wholly serious (after all, he’s got a reputation to keep as well as an audience to entertain), and he does put forward a case of sorts on its behalf.

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.
In other words, a “possible world” is a fantasized alternative to the world that actually exists. A “possible world” is essentially an imaginary world. It should not surprise us to find theistic apologists encouraging us to speculate on what could be the case in a realm that is merely imaginary.

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.

Craig writes:
The actual world is the description that is true.
Notice how, right out of the chute, Craig is way off: the actual world is not a “description.” Rather, the actual world exists (existence exists), and we describe it, either accurately or not. The actual world and a description of the actual world are not one and the same. Moreover – and this is crucial, the actual world does not conform to any description of it. On the contrary, our descriptions either conform to what actually is the case, or they do not.

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.

Craig writes:
Other possible worlds are descriptions that are not in fact true but which might have been true.
This statement raises fundamental epistemological questions which Craig neither anticipates nor addresses. For example, how does one determine that a so-called “possible world” is possible in the first place? How does one determine that a description “might have been true” even though it’s not? If a description is admitted not to be true, why treat it as though it had any bearing on our knowledge to begin with? What objective relevance do our fantasized alternatives to reality have to do with determining anything that is true? Etc.

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.  
So it should be clear that the primacy of consciousness is implicit in both “possible worlds” semantics as well as the underlying philosophical assumptions which originally gave rise to such notions. The very idea of “possible worlds” as it is used by philosophers like Craig and those from whom he has borrowed this notion, rests on treating the imaginary as though it were on equal footing with reality in philosophical discourse, which is why we should not be surprised that Craig makes use of “possible worlds” locution in one of his eight arguments. This allows Craig to stipulate that something must exist in reality because it allegedly exists in “every possible world,” which is precisely where he will take this form of “reasoning.”

Craig continues:
To say that something exists in some possible world is to say that there is some consistent description of reality which includes that entity.
Craig does not elaborate on what he means by "consistent" here, but if we were to follow him down his Anal Phil rabbit hole (you're welcome to blaze the trail and give the all-clear), we should not be surprised to find that he has internal consistency in mind here, as we find in many expressions of corrupt philosophy. But mere consistency, internal or otherwise, does not equal truth or factuality. A Harry Potter novel may very well be internally consistent – e.g., the narrative may be consistently in the third person, the setting may be consistent throughout, the characters and their development may be consistent, etc. But so what? In fact, that is what we expect of most fiction anyway. But when we have reality in mind, mere consistency of descriptions is not sufficient for true descriptions. Facts are what need to take priority in our understanding of reality, but “possible worlds” semantics deliberately blurs the role of facts and grants primacy to non-essentials, like consistency, internal beauty, elegance, or some other aesthetic concern.

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 again the metaphysical primacy granted to consciousness here: merely “to *say* that something exists in every possible world” means that whatever that something is, it exists in whatever “description” happens to be true, simply because someone says so. Craig offers no indication of an epistemological method which draws exclusively from facts to make such determinations and protect a thinker from making any mistakes here. So how would one know if he’s made a mistake in determining which “possible world” description happens to be true? Blank out.

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.

Craig continues:
Now with that in mind, consider the ontological argument, which was discovered in the year 1011 by the monk Anselm of Canterbury.
Craig’s statement reads as though he thought Anselm found his famous argument under a rock. But in fact, I already have considered the ontological argument. I have already posted my own criticism of the ontological argument (specifically a version offered on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which follows Anselm’s version quite closely) in my blog An Examination of the Ontological Argument. (Incidentally, Craig says that Anselm’s argument dates from the year 1011, but according to sources I’ve checked he wasn’t even born yet – cf. here.) As have many thinkers before me, I found many fatal problems in this argument. It is odd to see William Lane Craig, touted as he is as a leading philosopher of our age, endorsing this argument. This alone would raise my suspicions over Craig’s credibility as a thinker.

Craig writes:
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.
Again, notice the procedure here: first we look inward where we “discover’ the “definition” of “the greatest being” that anyone can “conceive” (i.e., imagine) and thereby stipulate that this “greatest being conceivable” must have certain qualities that we never discover in the world by looking outward. Ultimately it is the imagination which sets the terms of what is real here. Theists claim the special privilege of insisting that whatever is the “’greatest’ being that anyone can ‘conceive’” must be termed “God.” What qualities would it have? Craig has the answer:
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.
So again, we see the trend continuing here: the world – the real world that we discover and observe by looking outward - must conform to the stipulations, the definitions, and the descriptions that we generate in our minds by looking inward. If there were any systematic analysis of the process of faith, the ontological argument coupled with the notion of “possible worlds” and other features of Anal Phil come the closest to providing such an analysis. If anyone had any doubt about the stark opposition that faith represents to reason, it should be crystal clear now. Craig's entire procedure here is to protect a faith-based set of pre-commitments which he accepted long before assembling his arguments and to which all his argumentation ultimately conforms. This is the precise opposite of the approach taken by a reason-guided course of inquiry.
Notice for example the gender preference here: this “maximally great being” is assumed to be a “He.” But why? Why not a she? Why not a “they”? After all, Christianity has a three-headed god, a “Trinity” consisting of “three persons.” It makes no sense whatsoever to refer to “three persons” using a singular pronoun. And what makes the quantity of three “maximally great”? There are numbers greater than three. In fact, what exactly is the “maximally great” number? Why not multiples of 37 or 7901? We should not be surprised that the process of conforming this “maximally great being” to confessional sources never stops: since Craig and those of his ilk need their imagined “maximally great being” to be the god of their faith, they will need it to take on every characteristic attributed to the Christian god in the Old and New Testaments. This “maximally greatest being” will turn out to be a father which had a son, which incarnated itself and came to earth, which was born of a virgin and conducted a ministry in first century Palestine, which took on twelve disciples one of whom betrayed it, which was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to die on a cross, etc., etc., etc., etc. My, the coincidences of all this being the case can only mean that the biblical stories are all true! It’s amazing what we can say about the world when we begin with the imagination and use the process of faith to “argue” for what we’ve had in mind all along!

Craig concludes:
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.
But what objective evidence has Craig brought forward on behalf of the claim that his god’s existence is “possible” in the first place? Objective evidence is evidence that we find in reality by looking outward, and yet Craig’s entire approach throughout his seventh argument consists of consulting notions that are generated in the imagination and “discovered” by looking inward and treating reality as though it must conform to those notions by means of stipulation. What evidence do we find when we look outward that any supernatural beings at all exist? What evidence do we find when we look outward that consciousness can exist apart from those biological structures that we continually find associated with conscious functions? What evidence do we find when we look outward that suggests that consciousness can create matter by sheer force of will, that consciousness can alter facts just by commanding and wishing, that conscious intentions can reshape reality and determine one’s “eternal destiny” (e.g., “believe and ye shall be saved,” cf. Rom. 10:9-10)? If we could discover evidence for any of these things by looking outward at the world, like a scientist does when determining the nature of a newly discovered organism or predicting the trajectory of a comet, I have no doubt that apologists like Craig would be continually throwing that evidence in our faces over and over and over again. But they never bring forward evidence for these things. Rather, they continually resort to dodgy semantics, stipulated definitions and myriad other subjective contrivances to bolster what is in the end just another primitive faith.

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


David Barwick said...

I've always felt that the ontological argument proves that God is imaginary.

Possible world = imaginary world. Everything in an imaginary world is imaginary. Every imaginary entity in an imaginary world has imaginary properties. God has the imaginary property of imaginary existence in all imaginary worlds. But no amount of imagining will turn imaginary existence into real existence.

That is probably playing their game a little too much -- imaginary entities don't have imaginary properties. They don't have any properties at all, because they don't exist. God, an imaginary entity, has no properties and does not exist. Again, no amount of imagination will change that.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, a “possible world” is a fantasized alternative to the world that actually exists. A “possible world” is essentially an imaginary world."

And with that WL Craig can retire and go home. Gardening might be a much more productive thing for him to do.