May 23, 2011
Arguments Against God's Existence
Bringing into Being Things which Do Not Exist
Occasionally atheists will offer arguments against God’s existence that seem plausible at first blush. However, if examined carefully, their flaws emerge. In this question a reader describes one such objection posed by an atheist friend. He asserts that God cannot bring an uncreated object into existence, since this is a contradictory notion. Dr. Craig points out that this objection, along with a similar argument against God’s existence, relies on a mistaken initial premiss. Creatio ex nihilo should not be understood to mean an object is changed from non-being into being, but simply that its existence has begun.
Hey there Dr. Craig!
I've been talking with an atheist friend of mine who has issues with creatio ex nihilo. He claims that creatio ex nihilo is logically incoherent since things which exist have no causal power over things which don't exist. In other words, How does God cause something which doesn't exist to do anything? How exactly would God *bring* something that doesn't exist, into existence? He insists that that would imply that something can simultaneously exist and not exist at the same time. Therefore it's logically incoherent. Doesn't it seem that for causality to work, existent things can only act on existing things?
What say you?
Arguments against God’s existence
Your question, John, reminds me of an objection another reader recently sent in from an atheist website. It goes like this:
The Kalam Argument AGAINST God:
P1: Nothing which exists can cause something which does not exist to begin existing.
P2: Given (1), Anything which begins to exist was not caused to do so by something which exists.
P3: The universe began to exist.
P4: Given (2) and (3), the universe was not caused to exist by anything which exists.
P5: God caused the universe to begin to exist.
C1: Given (4) and (5), God does not exist.
The obvious mistake in both these objections is the assumption that creation or beginning to exist is a sort of change in a thing from being non-existent to being existent, much as a thing might change color from being green to being red. Thus, (P1) seems to assume that there are things that do not exist, which most philosophers would regard as absurd. As your friend says, “that would imply that something can simultaneously exist and not exist at the same time.” So it is trivially true that no existent thing can cause a non-existent thing to begin to exist or that, in your friend’s words, “things which exist have no causal power over things which don't exist,” since there are no non-existent things! (If you do think that there really are non-existent things, then (P1) is no longer clearly true. Why couldn’t an existent thing cause one of these non-existent things to begin to exist?)
Arguments against God’s existence – What creatio ex nihilo really means
But neither creatio ex nihilo nor beginning to exist implies that something undergoes a change from non-existence to existence. As C. D. Broad put it, absolute becoming is not a case of becoming this or that but just of becoming, period, just beginning to be. But then your friend’s questions, “How does God cause something which doesn't exist to do anything? How exactly would God *bring* something that doesn't exist, into existence?” are misconceived. God doesn’t do that. Your friend’s objection to creatio ex nihilo thus falls to the ground. No reason has been given why God cannot just create the matter and energy that constitute the universe.
Moreover, (P2) wouldn’t follow from (P1). For things which begin to exist are not non-existent things that became existent. If it’s to follow from (P1), (P2) requires a different interpretation of (P1):
(P1*) Nothing can cause something that exists but did not formerly exist to begin existing.
The problem is that (P1*) is patently false. I, for example, began to exist. Did I do so without a cause? According to (P2), which follows from (P1*), everything that begins to exist just pops into being uncaused. Not only is that patently false, but so believing would make science and life itself impossible. No need to learn about the birds and the bees! Do internet atheists really expect people to swallow poppycock like this in order to avoid theism?
But it gets worse! For (P5) is taken by our atheist to be true! So the argument concludes that God is a non-existent object which caused the universe to begin to exist! Indeed, if we’re to avoid the above conclusion that everything that begins to exist does so without a cause, it seems we have to say that everything that begins to exist is caused by non-existent objects to come into being. How they pull off that metaphysical trick our intrepid atheist does not tell us.