Bang Goes Theism…
I have written about and defended the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God by philosopher William Lane Craig on numerous occassions. This deceptively simple argument runs as follows:
1. Everything that begins to existence has a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause of its existence.
After establishing this argument, Craig goes on to argue – primarily on the basis of conceptual analysis – that this cause must be timeless, spaceless, changeless, immaterial, incredibly powerful, and even personal.
Given that premise one is strongly supported by our universal experience of the world as well as our rationally ingrained metaphysical intutions that things cannot just pop into existence ucaused and out of nothing, Craig spends most of his time defending premise two: The universe began to exist. Not only does he provide two strong philosophical reasons to support this premise, but he also provides two scientific reasons – evidence from thermodynamics and evidence from what we know of the origins of the universe in the event that has come to be known as the Big Bang. What makes his case so strong is that we have two very different bodies of evidence both pointing strongly in the same direction. Much of the science is technical and weighty, going into deeper issues within cosmology and even quantum physics, but I was reminded this week of an argument against the existence of God from the evidence of the Big Bang by philosopher Quentin Smith.
It is this argument that I want to deal with here. I will first lay out the argument in its logical form and then bring some criticisms against it which to my mind are devastating to Smith’s case.
Smith’s argument runs as follows:
1. If God exists and there is an earliest state of the universe, then God created that earliest state.
2. God is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly benevolent.
3. A universe with life is better than an inanimate universe.
4. Therefore, if God created that earliest state, then it must either contain life or eventually lead to a universe containing life (1, 2 & 3).
5. There is an earliest state of the universe, and it is the unique event of the Big Bang.
6. The earliest state of the universe involves the life-hostile conditions of infinite temperature, infinite curvature, and infinite density.
7. Since the Big Bang even is inherently unpredictable and lawless, there is no guarantee that it will lead to a universe with life.
8. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the earliest state of the universe will lead to life (from 5 & 7).
9. Therefore God could not have created that earliest state (4 & 8)
10. Therefore, God does not exist.
Theists are highly unlikely to quibble with premise 1, since being the creator of the universe is one of the main features of God as conceived across a broad spectrum from deism to specifically Christian theism. It’s possible of course for God to exist and yet not have created the universe, but we can set that possibility aside here. Premise 2 lays out the more specific concept of God that Smith is dealing with in this argument. Of course even if the argument is success it would remain open that some other type of deity exists – perhaps an all-powerful but benevolently-indifferent being, or a less than perfect God, or perhaps a God of limited power. However, a huge number of theists hold to this conception of God, and so we shall run with it and still show the shortcomings of the argument.
The first significant problem with Smith’s argument appears in premise 3, the statement that “a universe with life is better than an inanimate universe,” and thus the initial conclusion stated in premise 4 is also suspect as it relies on 3 in order to function. Why must God create a universe with life? What reason is there for the claim that a universe with life is better than an inanimate universe? Better for whom or what? It can hardly be better for the beings that do not exist in such a lifeless world, since non-existence beings can have no interests at all. Nor can it be better for God. If God is perfect and lacks nothing then a universe of life is no better for Him either. Smith seems to think that God has some sort of obligation to bring about the best possible world. However, not only has he given us no reason to accept that a universe with life is in some way “better,” he fails to appreciate the incoherence in the notion that God could have any such obligation. Where does such an obligation come from? Who or what could possibly lay an obligation on God? The notion of divine obligations which exist over and above God himself simply makes little sense. It might indeed be the case that God has a reason for creating a universe with life but there is no obligation or necessity here.
Far more can be said about this point but I want to leave it here since the really fatal premise is further on.
Premise 5 is fairly unobjectionable, as is Premise 6. However, the argument really begins to come apart at the seams with Premise 7:
“Since the Big Bang event is inherently unpredictable and lawless, there is no guarantee that it will lead to a universe with life.”
It strikes me that this premise is begging the question, albeit implicitly. After all if an all-powerful God who wishes to bring about life exists, then it simply isn’t true that “there is no guarantee that [the Big Bang event] will lead to a universe with life.” Quite simply if God exists then there is a guarantee that we will get a universe with life. It would appear, then, that if God exists there is no reason to grant Premise 7, and in fact unless we already know that the conclusion of the argument is true then Premise 7 is flat out false. The only way Premise 7 can possibly be true is if we already know that the conclusion of the argument is true. The argument therefore commits the informal fallacy of begging the question. As such it is dead in the water.
But in the interests of flogging the goat a little more we should point out that there is good reason to deny Premise 7 in its own right. The premise, as we have seen, describes the Big Bang event as “inherently unpredictable and lawless, [with] no guarantee that it will lead to a universe with life.” However, maybe such a capacity to guarantee life was present at the outset even if to our eyes it appears to have been inherently unpredictable and lawless. After all, as Smith rather splendidly overlooks, the universe did in fact produce life despite massive odds to the contrary! Alternatively God could very easily have ensured a universe with life through subsequent intervention. Smith owes us a good argument if he wishes to persuade us that there is some logical necessity that a life-engendering capacity be present from the very start, but all he offers us is his own musings that if God had to intervene it would be “a sign of incompetent planning. . . The rational thing to do is to create some state that by its own lawful nature leads to a life-producing universe.” Leaving aside Smith’s apparent knowledge of the field of universe creation, he has given us scant grounds to suppose that intervention after the initial Big Bang event is in some way illogical. He only hints that God should have adopted a more efficient way of working, a way which would rule out any need for subsequent intervention. In response to this notion, Thomas Morris concludes, quite rightly, that: “Efficiency is always relative to a goal or set of intentions. Before you know whether a person is efficient in what she is doing, you must know what it is she intends to be doing, what goals and values are governing the activity she is engaged in. . . In order to be able to derive the conclusion that if there is a God in charge of the world, he is grossly inefficient, one would have to know of all the relevant divine goals and values which would be operative in the creation and governance of a world such as ours.” I have my doubts if Smith – or any human being – is in the right position with the necessary knowledge to make such a judgment call.
In any event, why should we even think that efficiency is a necessary property of a divine – and perfect – being? Even if God does not act efficiently is that somehow a defect? Hardly. Efficiency is arguably a good property to possess if you’re a being with limited time, power and resources; but God presumably lacks neither time, nor power, nor resources. God, as a perfect being, is creatively free and thus under no constraints with respect to the property of having to act efficiently.
On the basis of these considerations I therefore conclude that Smith’s argument collapses under the weight of its own faulty premises and unwarranted assumptions. No rational person need accept it without making several significant quantum leaps of logic.
Stephen J Graham