June 26, 2011
Beliefs Of Buddhists
Buddhist Arguments against God
The beliefs of Buddhists stand in stark contrast to those of Christianity, especially concerning the need for a creator. A questioner from Sri Lanka writes in with several Buddhist arguments, including assertions that an infinite chain of events can result in our universe and the concept of an all-powerful creator is contradictory. Dr. Craig responds to each, demonstrating in a clear, concise way how the Christian belief of a Creator God aligns much more closely with the evidence than the beliefs of Buddhists.
Dear Dr Craig,
I have been a avid follower of your work for a couple of years now and has been thoroughly convinced by your arguments supporting christian theism. I have seen you defend almost all arguments against theism that is worth defending and I am keen on seeing you respond to the questions below. I recently completed reading the book "The Quantum and the Lotus" by Matthieu Ricard & Trinh Xuan Thuan. The book provides a world view and cosmological explanations based on Buddhism and the parallels with science, Buddhism presents. In the 4th Chapter of the book, which starts on the 37th page titled "In Search of the Great Watchmaker" the authors provide a solid argument at least on paper, that the universe never had a beginning and was always existing not necessarily as a steady state universe but as a cyclic universe which comes into being and dies out and does so over and over again throughout eternity. In this chapter the authors present some key arguments against the existence of GOD. In order for you to pinpoint some arguments I have written them in point form and am Quoting directly from the book.
1) The fact that our existence seems to be coded into each part of the universe just shows how compatible we are with the physical world. But it does not mean that you can say this is true because there was some intention that we should be here
2) The apparently amazing fine tuning is explained simply by the fact that the physical constants and consciousness have always coexisted in a universe that has no beginning and no end.
2.1) The conditions of our present universe harmonize with those of the previous and subsequent ones, because the process of casualty is unbroken and entails a compatibility between the nature of the cause and that of the effect.
2.2) The problem with the Anthropic Principle, or any other teleological theory, is that it puts the constants before consciousness and thus claims that the constants exist only so that they can create consciousness. The anthorpic principle comes down to picking up two halves of a walnut and saying, "It's incredible, it looks like these two pieces have been designed to fit perfectly together"
3) But who is this creator ? where did he come from ? From a creator of Creators ? If not, then he must be his own cause. An effect, or a result, cannot be its own cause.
4) Why shouldn't a chain of causes be infinite in time and complexity ? What law of nature does that contradict ?
5) God must be either immutable, and thus unable to create, or else inside time and thus not immutable. This is one of the contradictions that the notion of a prime cause leads to.
5.1) First, there is a prime cause, it should be immutable. Why ? Because, by definition it has no other cause than it self, so it has no reason to become different. Change would imply the intervention of another cause that wasn't part of the prime cause.
5.2) How could an immutable entity create something ? If there is an act of creation, is the creator involved or not ? If he is not, why call him the "Creator"? If he is involved, then because creation inevitably occurs in stages, the something or someone involved in these stages is not immutable.
6) If the principle did decide to create, then we must recognize that it cannot be all-powerful, because it was influenced by the desire to create. If you then argue the other way and say that the principle did not actually decide to create, then you must concede that the principle is not all-powerful because it created without deciding to create. Therefore it wasn't free to create or not to create.
6.1) This principle is also cannot be timeless, or immutable, because, as we have seen, in the process of creating it will necessarily have itself changed. It went from having the desire to create and having done so, and therefore it would no longer have the desire in the same way. Creation implies change- there is a creative act. after creating the principle would no longer be the same-before it wasn't a creator and after it was. The principle has thereby lost its immutability.
And the rest of the arguments are presented in pages 56 and 57 of the book.
I am sure, you will have the answers and explanations to the above arguments and I am keen on listening to them. Before I conclude I apologize for the length of the question, but really am in need of answers. Allot of Sri Lankan's and I are awaiting your reply.
I’m glad to get a question from Sri Lanka about a Buddhist critique of theism. But I have to confess that I’m rather worried, Dinuka, by the fact that you describe yourself as an “avid follower of [my] work for a couple of years now” who “has been thoroughly convinced by [my] arguments supporting christian theism” and has “seen [me] defend almost all arguments against theism that is worth defending”--and yet you apparently don’t feel equipped to answer these objections! Since I’ve already answered most of these objections in my published work and you mention so many objections, I’m going to give very brief answers along with references where fuller answers can be found. (If this literature is unavailable to you, most of the answers are in my book Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. rev. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008).
Going simply on the basis of your summaries, I should say:
1. I take this to be an objection to the fine-tuning argument for a Cosmic Designer. The question, however, is the best explanation of the compatibility of the universe with our existence. Design is a better explanation than physical necessity or chance. See Robin Collins, “The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. Wm. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 202-281.
Beliefs of Buddhists - The problems with an oscillating universe model
2. Merely extending both consciousness and the physical constants back to past infinity does nothing at all to explain their existence or harmony. In any case, the evidence indicates that consciousness has not always existed in the universe; nor does the evidence indicate that the universe exists beginninglessly, cyclic models notwithstanding. See William Lane Craig and James Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. Wm. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 101-201.
2.1 Oddly enough, that continuity is denied by those who postulate quantum physical transitions between cycles.
2.2 The Anthropic Principle is a denial of teleology, not an expression of it! In any case, why is it a “problem” to say the constants were so designed that consciousness might arise in the universe? I don’t understand the walnut analogy at all. Presumably the question in the case of the walnut is inapt because the two halves are not independent but have a common causal origin. But in the case of fine-tuning, I don’t see what is supposed to be analogous to the two halves. The constants and consciousness? That makes no sense, since the question isn’t why we have consciousness correlated with these values of the constants but why the constants have life-permitting values in the first place.
Beliefs of Buddhists - The nature of God
3. The Creator is a beginningless, uncaused, immaterial, spaceless, timeless, enormously powerful, incomprehensibly intelligent, personal Creator and Designer of the universe. He didn’t come from anywhere. This is not to say that he is self-caused but that he is uncaused (and, plausibly, metaphysically necessary).
4. See my philosophical arguments against an infinite regress of events in the Blackwell Companion article. The law of nature contradicted by a past-eternal universe is the General Theory of Relativity (gravity). Even a quantum gravitational theory seems to imply a beginning of the universe. See again the Blackwell Companion.
5. This a false dilemma. God existing alone sans the universe can be changeless but not immutable. (Immutability is the modal property of being incapable of change; changelessness is a mere de facto property.) He starts to change at the moment of creation. Alternatively, God could exist changelessly prior to creation in a sort of amorphous non-metric time in which temporal intervals cannot be distinguished. See my Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001).
5.1 An uncaused being can have a reason to change. If it is a libertarian agent, he can freely change without being caused by something external to do so. That is the essence of free will.
5.2 I agree with this argument. But I don’t think that God is immutable. He is merely changeless sans creation. See once more my Time and Eternity.
Beliefs of Buddhists - God can exercise free will
6. God did freely decide to create. On any plausible account of omnipotence, the ability to act on one’s own desires is hardly an indication of impotence! See Thomas P. Flint and Alfred J. Freddoso, “Maximal Power,” in The Existence and Nature of God, ed. Alfred J. Freddoso (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), pp. 81-113.
6.1 I agree that the cause of the universe cannot be immutable. But timelessness requires mere changelessness, not immutability. God is essentially eternal (i.e., permanent, without beginning or end) but whether He is temporal or atemporal is a contingent property of God, dependent upon whether He creates a temporal universe or not. I fully agree that creating is an act and that at the moment of creation God stands in a relation in which He never stood before (there being no “before”!), namely, being the creator of the universe. He is therefore not changeless since the moment of creation. All these points I have argued myself, and they are wholly compatible with biblical theism. None of this supports a pantheistic or panspsychic view of reality, as your authors seem to suppose.