Existence of God (part 5)
Transcript of William Lane Craig's Defenders 2 class.
Excursus: Natural Theology
§ I. Contingency Argument
We are going to finish up our discussion of Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument. We have been talking about the question of why anything exists. And we saw that anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or else in an external cause. We then argued that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. Given, then, that the universe exists, it follows that the explanation of the universe is God.
We have looked at the principal objections that atheists or detractors of the argument might raise. There is one last way that the atheist might try to escape this argument that I want to talk with you about today by way of wrap-up. This is very subtle, so I am going to go slow, so that you can get it.
Objection: Universe Is Contingent But It Is Necessary That Something Exist
What the atheist might say at this point is that there are no beings that exist necessarily. We have argued that there has to be something that exists by a necessity of its own nature. The atheist will say that is not true; nothing exists necessarily. Nevertheless, he might say, it is still necessary that something or other exist. There is nothing that exists necessarily, but it is necessary that something or other exist. So he will agree with the theist that the existence of nothing is impossible – something must exist. The existence of nothingness is simply impossible, but the conclusion he draws from this is not that, therefore, there is a necessary being but that, necessarily, some contingent being or other exists.
This would be sort of like saying, “Necessarily, every physical object must have a shape, but there is no particular shape which it is necessary for everything to have.” In the same way, the atheist can say it is necessary that something or other exist, some contingent being or other has to exist, but there isn’t any particular thing that exists necessarily. On this view, premise (1) turns out to be false. The universe just exists contingently and inexplicably. Something has to exist, it just happens to be our universe, and it just exists inexplicably. Some universe must exist, and there is no explanation why this universe exists.
Question: Does that, then, refute evolution?
Answer: No, it has nothing to do with evolutionary theory.
Followup: I ask because, if it is necessary that something exists, but nothing exists necessarily, then they would suggest there is no hierarchy or consequence time line. In other words, would this mean they would not put any relationship between things?
Answer: That doesn’t follow. Why can’t the atheist say it is necessary that something exists and, given that this universe does exist, it just happens to evolve and life develops by chance and so forth? It seems to me this just doesn’t have any implications for biology or evolutionary theory. But I did like the way you summarized it. You summarized it better than I did. “It is necessary that something exists, but nothing exists necessarily.” It was very nicely put, very pithy.
Question: I noticed you didn’t say that given that we exist, something necessarily exists. They are saying that even if we weren’t here, something must exist, correct?1
Answer: That is correct. This is a very strange and radical view. It is not saying, conditionally, given something exists, something necessarily exists. This is a view that says, “It is logically impossible for there to be nothingness, and yet there isn’t anything that exists necessarily.” It is just necessary that something be there, and it happens to be us, but there is no explanation for that.
Question: Doesn’t this tie back into the Kalam Cosmological Argument in that they can’t deny the premise in this argument if they deny the kalam, right?
Answer: Let’s review here. Remember last time we talked about why should we think that our universe is not necessary. One reason I said is because it is not eternal. It began to exist. That shows that the universe doesn’t exist necessarily. These folks would say that that is right – this universe doesn’t exist necessarily. So they will agree with that. They will agree that there is nothing about this universe that makes it a necessary being. But they would say, nevertheless, it is necessary that some universe exists. Why this one rather than any other is just inexplicable. Think again of the analogy of the shape. It is necessary that any physical object have a shape, but there isn’t a particular shape that is necessary that everything have.
Question: Do the guidelines for whether something is necessary or not have any resemblance to the debate on dynamic time versus static time?
Answer: We have talked about that issue a little bit, and we will do so again. But I don’t think that plays into this, though. Whatever view of time you have, the question is just why is there something, why is there anything? This view says it is logically necessary that there be something, there has to be something, but what it is, is just inexplicable.
Question: Isn’t this position tantamount to saying we can’t refute your position but we are just going to say “because” because we don’t want to believe it?
Answer: Yeah, I am sympathetic to that response. It is just sort of helping oneself to the logical necessity of something on an atheistic view. That will actually be the second point that I am going to make in a moment. It is sort of ad hoc, that is to say, it is contrived to just assert this without any grounds for it. The theist has a reason why he thinks it is logically impossible for there to be nothing, namely, there is a necessary being – and therefore it is impossible that there be nothing. But on the atheist view, there is no explanation for why it is logically necessary that something exist. So it does seem contrived.
Let me give some response to this. Again, this response is subtle and therefore I will take it slow. Alexander Pruss is a brilliant young philosopher formerly at Georgetown University but now recently at Baylor University. Pruss has pointed out that this view has an extremely implausible consequence. The thrust of his argument here is that if something has an extremely implausible consequence, then the view that entails that is itself implausible. If you can show that this view has a very implausible consequence, that suggests that the view itself is very implausible.
So what is this? Pruss says that there is no conjunction of claims about the non-existence of various things that would plausibly entail that, say, a unicorn exists. Think about it – how could the fact that certain other contingent things do not exist entail that a unicorn exists?2 But on this atheistic view, the conjunction, “There are no mountains, there are no people, there are no planets, there are no rocks, there are no books, etc., etc.,” (keep going until you list everything in the universe except for a unicorn) entails that a unicorn must exist! This is because if there has to be something, and this conjunction says none of these other things exist, then it follows that the only thing left is a unicorn. And so a conjunction about the non-existence of all these other things entails that a unicorn exists, which just seems absurd. That suggests that this view is itself absurd and implausible.
Question: What if they say this view entails some amount of ignorance, and you can’t list everything because you don’t know everything that could exist?
Answer: I would just say that becomes even more ad hoc. I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t give a list of everything that doesn’t exist. Obviously, no human being could do it, but we are talking about a proposition that would be a conjunction like “Not-P and not-Q and not-R and . . .” out to infinity that is a listing all of these things that don’t exist. If that conjunction is true, that entails that a unicorn exists, if the unicorn is not one of the things in the conjunction. Of course, the unicorn is just arbitrary, you can pick the tooth fairy or leprechauns or anything. You have a conjunction of claims about things that do not exist, and that would entail that that thing exists. That just seems crazy.
Question: I don’t see why anyone would ever claim that nothing exists but a unicorn. What argument are we getting this from? Why argue that nothing exists except for one thing?
Answer: The unicorn is chosen arbitrarily. We would do this to refute this argument. We are trying to refute the view that necessarily something exists but there isn’t anything that exists necessarily. This view says it is necessary that there be something, but there isn’t any particular thing that has to exist necessarily, as the theist thinks. So if, necessarily, there has to be something, and none of these other things exist, then the only thing left over is this entity you picked, like a unicorn. So a conjunction of claims about the non-existence of other things would entail that this particular entity exists, which seems really strange. How can the fact that tables and chairs and people don’t exist entail that the tooth fairy exists? And yet that is the consequence of this view! So that suggests that this view is very implausible.
Question: The atheist would say that a rational explanation does exist, but we just do not yet know what it is. Therefore, as time progresses and science progresses, we learn more and eventually get answers to all these questions through science, and God will not be necessary.3
Answer: That response is very different from the response we are considering now. That person grants the truth of premise (1), that everything that exists has an explanation – we just don’t know what it is, but everything has an explanation. What you are describing is a person who denies premise (2), “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” Then, you remember, I gave a two fold response to that. I pointed out that that is logically equivalent to the typical atheist claim (though not the one you are rehearsing). Secondly, I gave some reasons for thinking premise (2) is plausible in and of itself. I think once the atheist starts down the road of saying everything has an explanation, he is really going to be backed into the corner on this argument because, for something to explain why anything exists, it is going to have to be a necessary being that transcends time and space and all the rest.
Question: When they say something must exist necessarily, do they. . .
Answer: Now, wait! I know this is confusing, but it is so important to say this right, otherwise we get mixed up. What we want to say is [they say,] “Necessarily, something exists,” not that something exists necessarily.
Followup: O.K., you are right. When it says that, do atheists give any attributes to that something at all? Do they call it a universe?
Answer: I think you can use the word “universe” just in the sense of “reality.” But there isn’t anything specific here because it is contingent, and so it could be pellets that exist, it could be, I suppose, even abstract objects maybe, as long as they think they are contingent.
Question: I want to clarify Pruss’ response. Is the response that you can’t have this conjunction of non-existent things or is it a conjunction of things that don’t exist necessarily? I could imagine if it is things that just don’t exist, it is hard to see how this could be a good response because we know things do exist, like atoms, chairs, and tables. It is hard to see how that argument would follow.
Answer: It is not your first alternative. He does think that it is possible to have such a conjunction, theoretically. It is logically possible, though no human could obviously enumerate it. But you could have a proposition that would be the conjunction stating everything that doesn’t exist. Now you are quite right, that proposition won’t be true in this world because there are things that exist. He is not saying this proposition is true, but what he is saying is that from the truth of such a proposition it would follow that unicorns exist, on this atheist view. And that is just very implausible, to think that a conjunction of claims about how other things don’t exist would entail that a unicorn exists. That is the argument. So it is not meant to be a true proposition about this world.
Followup: I think I follow that, but it just seems like it is not a big deal if no such proposition could be true. On the other hand, I can see how it does make sense if the argument is “P doesn’t exist necessarily, Q doesn’t exist necessarily, and so on. Yet something has to exist necessarily.”4
Answer: That is not the argument. Yes, it could be true so long as it omits something. So long as it omits unicorns, that proposition could be true, right? That is the whole point. If you had something that enumerated everything, then that couldn’t be true. But so long as it omits something, that proposition can be true and would entail that that other thing exists, which seems very, very implausible.
Followup: I guess it could be true in principle.
Answer: And that is what we are talking about. It is logically possible for that proposition to be true, and so you would have a conjunction of statements about other things that don’t exist and that would entail that some arbitrarily chosen entity exists, which seems really odd.
Question: The whole argument seems more philosophical panic – “I don’t care what you do, just do something.” In a sense, something has to exist, but they don’t care what it is. If something has to exist, but that something doesn’t necessarily have to exist, what happens if you destroy that something? Does something else have to pop into being?
Answer: That is an interesting point! Yes, that is right because it is logically necessary that something exist. I grant you that. And yet this view is taken by some atheists. For example, this view is expressed in a book by a philosopher named Bede Rundle on this question of why does anything at all exist. And I have heard other philosophers orally say this as well. They say it is logically necessary that there be something but there isn’t any particular thing that has to exist. So this isn’t just airy-fairy; this view is out there in some philosophical circles. But again, remember the point of an argument is to raise the price tag of denying the conclusion, and here we see the kind of price the atheist has to pay to avoid the force of this argument.
Question: What if the atheist decides to pay that price tag? Is there anything left to say to that?
Answer: I have one more point to make in defense of this. But remember that with a deductive argument, you can always avoid the conclusion by denying one of the premises. If you are just willing to bite the bullet and deny one of the premises, you can avoid the conclusion. So the question will be, what intellectual price tag are you willing to pay? We are not suggesting that we can force atheists to become theists. That obviously is not true.
Followup: What if the atheist said something like, “Since we can’t conceptualize any possible universe where all these things don’t exist because we only know of a universe with matter and humans, perhaps in a universe devoid of all those things except unicorns perhaps it would be logical unicorns could exist?”
Answer: Yes, it is logical! It has to be that way. And if he is willing to pay that price, then he is welcome to it, but that is a pretty high price to pay, I think.
Question: If God is a necessary being, but he can be temporal at any point, then could the universe also be necessary if it is temporal?5
Answer: Yes, I don’t see why not. I don’t think that necessary existence implies timeless existence. I just don’t see any reason to think that because something exists necessarily it has to be timeless.
Question: This came to mind when someone asked what would happen if this something that exists was destroyed and something else necessarily has to take its place. It seems logic is being elevated to some impersonal God because logic is requiring something to spontaneously pop into existence – it is happening just to fit with this abstract concept of logic. It seems strange that an atheist would take that step. They would be acknowledging something existing necessarily, that being logic.
Answer: On this view, the atheist isn’t willing to say something exists necessarily. He wants to say there is nothing that exists necessarily. You are pressing a question about the status of logic itself and its laws and whether there is an explanation for the necessity of logic. That raises a whole different issue that we are not pressing here, but is a good question to raise. If the atheist ultimately has to abandon logic in order to save atheism, then I think the debate is over because then it is the theists who are the logical, rational ones.
Question: “Something” and “no thing” are concepts. Could it be that God is more than a concept and has relationships with other things? There are logical absurdities. To say there are no unicorns is an absurdity because you just created the construct, or the concept, of a unicorn when you say that.
Answer: Understand that a unicorn here is a flesh and blood animal that has hair and spatial dimensions and weight. You are talking about the concept of a unicorn, not an actual unicorn, so there is no absurdity in saying that this concept isn’t instantiated. There isn’t any real unicorn even though there is a concept of it.
Followup: Doesn’t that hit to the very issue of the absurdity of humans trying to define God or not-God?
Answer: I don’t think so. Whatever God is, I don’t think that we would want to say he is not something. We are using the word “something” in a very generic sense to just mean an entity that exists.
Followup: Of course, as Christians we believe that God is omniscient and omnipresent and omnipotent. But if you take the premise that God is omnipresent, but the humans construct that there is this state of nothingness and that that is simply a human construct, that God in reality exists as relationship with himself or as a Trinity God, that he speaks into existence relationship, he speaks us into relationship.
Answer: This argument does not try to prove the omnipresence of God, though it would show that God is a being which transcends time and space. So in that sense he is not spatially limited. God can exist in relationship with himself. I think that God is relational in the Trinity, for example. That would not require the existence of a universe of physical beings or space. God could exist and be in relation with himself without any spatial reality at all, even without any temporal reality. I do not think time and space exist necessarily; at least I have not seen any good reason to think that.6
Let me give a second response to this objection. On this view, there is nothing which would account for why there exists contingent beings in every possible world. There is no explanation for why there would be contingent beings in every possible world. In other words, I am raising the question, “Why is it logically necessary that something exist?” Since there is no necessary being, there is nothing that could cause contingent beings to exist in every possible world. There is no explanation why every possible world includes contingent beings. There is no strict logical inconsistency in the concept of a world that is devoid of contingent beings. What accounts for the fact that in every logically possible world contingent beings exist? Given the infinity of broadly logically possible worlds, the odds that in all of them contingent beings would just happen to exist inexplicably is infinitesimal. If you can think of all the logically possible worlds there are, the odds that in all of them contingent beings would just happen to exist is literally infinitesimal. So the probability for the atheist hypothesis is effectively zero. There is zero probability that contingent beings would just happen to exist by chance in every possible world. So it seems to me that this viewpoint also fails; it has a probability of effectively zero.
By contrast, I might say, on the theist view there is a good reason why there are contingent beings. Actually, there aren’t contingent beings in every possible world on the theist view because there are worlds in which just God alone exists. But on the theist view there is a good explanation for why it is logically necessary that something exists, namely, there is a necessary being. And that is why it is necessary that something exists: because there is a necessary being. But on the atheist view, there is just no explanation for why is it necessary that something exists.
Question: Back to premise (1), is it the atheist view that nothing has an external cause? Is that the foundation they have?
Followup: This whole argument you are presenting today seems to be based on the premise that there can’t be an external cause for anything.
Answer: You are misunderstanding something here. Most things have external causes. I do – I was conceived by my parents. Our automobile has an external cause – it was manufactured in Ohio. This building has an external cause. Most of the things that we are familiar with have external causes. In fact, you remember, some of you were pressing me the other day to give some examples of things that exist by a necessity of its own nature, and I was hard pressed to do so, apart from mentioning things like mathematical objects or propositions, things like that. So most things have external causes, and everybody, atheists and theists alike, agree with that. The question is, does everything that exists have an explanation of its existence? That is the issue in premise (1).
Question: I really didn’t understand what you were trying to say there. Something about the atheist view is illogical because it just can’t happen statistically?
Answer: Let’s imagine all of the different possible worlds there are. Just think of all the different possible worlds there could be. It is endless and infinite. In every one of them, contingent beings exist. Contingent beings would be beings whose existence is not necessary – they don’t exist by the necessity of their own nature. If there is something that exists by a necessity of its own nature, it would hardly be surprising that in every possible world, something exists.7 But that is not the atheist view on this objection. The atheist is saying, in all of these possible worlds, there just happens to exist something contingently, and there is no explanation for why that is the case. It just happens to be that way. As I said, the odds of that happening, by chance, are just infinitesimal, that there would be contingent beings in every single world. And yet that is what the atheist has to say. He has to bit the bullet and affirm that, which seems implausible.
Summary and Conclusion
Given the truth of the three premises, the conclusion is that God is the explanation of the existence of the universe. What sort of God concept do we get here? What kind of being are we concluding to? This argument implies that God is an uncaused, unembodied mind who transcends the physical universe and even space and time themselves and who exists necessarily.
This is a very rich concept of God. It doesn’t give you omniscience or omnipresence, but it does give you some of the central attributes of God. Certainly it gives us enough of the attributes of this being to say that it is incompatible with any serious form of atheism.
[At this point, Dr. Craig hands out an “argument map” like the one in his book On Guard.]
How does this argument map work? Everything in blue is what the proponent of the argument says. If the arrow goes down, that means that is a supporting argument for the argument above it. If it is in red, that is the atheistic response to the argument. And if the arrow goes up, that means it is in resistance to the premise.
Look at premise (1): Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. The atheist says, “Then God must have a cause to explain him.” But then the theist says, “No, God exists by a necessity of his own nature.” And that terminates that line of discussion.
Why think that premise (1) is true? Because this is a self-evident principle. Think of the story of finding the ball in the woods and imagine the ball is then the size of the universe. That gives good grounds for thinking premise (1) is true. The atheist response could be, “The universe is an exception to this principle.” The theist can then respond, “Making the universe an exception to this principle is arbitrary and commits the taxi cab fallacy.” The atheist can then respond, “It is not arbitrary, since it is impossible for the universe to have an explanation.” The theist then can respond, “You are assuming the universe is all there is, which begs the question in favor of atheism. You are reasoning in a circle.” And that ends that line of discussion.
Answer: Right! The concept of God that this argument gives us is a being who is an uncaused, unembodied mind who transcends the physical universe and even space and time themselves and who exists necessarily. All of those attributes emerged in the course of our discussion of this argument.
Question: In your experience doing these debates, do you see that the actual atheist’s heart is being changed at all in going through these arguments or is it mostly people in the audience that you are trying to reach whose hearts potentially are soft to the Holy Spirit?
Answer: It is the latter. I have no illusions about trying to convince my debate opponent. Someone who is willing to get up in front of hundreds and even thousands of students and denounce God and denounce Christ is not apt to change his mind in the course of a debate. But there are lots of students in the audiences who are really agonizing and really searching and who are open to argument, and something like this is designed to reach them.
I want to add, too, on what I thought you might ask but you didn’t, and that is, “Do you get these sort of responses in the debates?” And the answer is “No!” What I have done here is to give the atheist every benefit of the doubt. I tried to think of every good objection the atheist might raise. They never raise most of these. They’ve never even thought about most of these things! You can’t believe the superficiality of the interaction on some of these issues. So I am really bending over backwards here to try to give the best objections that the atheist can raise and then how you might respond to these.
What I cannot do – and I have learned this through the website – is anticipate every bad objection to these arguments! That is just impossible. Some arguments and objections are so flaky and so off the wall that you just can’t possibly anticipate them. There you are going to have to think for yourself. But at least I think these are the most important substantive responses that atheists have given to this sort of argument in professional journals and books on the subject. I think that the argument survives those attacks intact and emerges from that acid bath very, very strongly and is a good argument for belief in God.8
8 Total Running Time: 42:29