Why Does Anything at All Exist?
Carswell Lecture, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, United States – March 28, 2008
William Lane Craig speaks at Wake Forest University for the Carswell Lecture.
INTRODUCTION: Good evening! Good to see you all. Thank you so much for coming tonight. My name is Christian Miller, I am a member of the philosophy department here at Wake Forest, and I am also in charge of our speaker series this year in the philosophy department. Before I introduce our speaker for tonight I want to make a couple of announcements.
One of the announcements is that, our format for tonight is going to be this: we are going to let Dr. Craig speak for about 45 minutes or so and then there is going to be a time for question and answer. Feel free to come up and ask questions, there are two microphones set up here, and if you want to keep your questions short in case there are a lot of people who wish to ask a question. And we are looking forward to getting in a lot of question-answer time for discussion as part of this event. In addition, after the Q & A period, there will be a reception in the philosophy department, in the philosophy department library. Now some of you may not know where that is so there will be people stationed outside of this auditorium to direct you to that reception, and everyone is welcome to come, there will be food and beverages at the reception and a chance to interact with the philosophy department and also with Dr. Craig.
Secondly, tonight Dr. Craig will be giving the Guy T. and Clara Carswell Endowed Philosophy Lecture. Mr. Carwsell was a former trustee of Wake Forest University and a distinguished alumnus. In 1960 he made a significant gift to the university in order to establish a lectureship in his and his wife’s name. The purpose of the lectureship was, according to the Carswells, to “deal generally with problems of philosophy relating with Christian truth.” This year’s Carswell lecturer is Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California. He earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, England, before taking a doctorate in theology from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Germany, where he was for two years an Alexander von Humboldt fellow. Prior to his appointment at Talbot, he spent seven years at the Higher Institution of Philosophy at the Catholic University in Belgium. He has authored or edited over 30 books, including the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology, and God, Time, and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of Philosophy, The American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, and The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Professor Craig also asked me to mention his website, www.reasonablefaith.org. where many of his writings can be found if you are interested in reading more of his thoughts. Tonight Dr. Craig will be speaking on the question: why does anything at all exists? Please join me in giving a very warm Wake Forest welcome to Dr. William Lane Craig.
DR. CRAIG: Thank you very much. I want to begin my saying how grateful I am to Wake Forest University and to the philosophy department in particular for the honor of delivering this years’ Carswell Lecture. And I hope that Mr. And Mrs. Carswell would be pleased with what transpires here this evening. I also want to thank each of you for coming out and spending this Friday night thinking about such important topics and I hope that at the end of the evening you will also agree that this has been well worth it.
Keokuk, Iowa was a great place to grow up as a boy. It is on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River on the southeastern toe of Iowa that hangs down over Missouri. Keokuk is in Mark Twain territory. As kids we had virtually every kind of pet that we could catch: frogs, snakes, salamanders, rabbits, birds, stray cats and dogs that wandered by our house, even a bat, and a possum. You could also see the stars clearly at night in Keokuk. I remember as a boy looking up at the stars, innumerable in the black night, and thinking, where did all this come from? It seemed to me instinctively that there had to be an explanation of why all this exists. As long as I can remember, then, I have always believed in a creator of the universe. Only years later did I come to realize that my boyhood question, as well as its answer, had occupied the minds of some of the greatest philosophers for centuries.
For example. G. W. Leibniz, a prodigious scholar of 18th century Germany and the founder of the calculus, wrote, “The first question which should rightly be asked is, why there is something rather than nothing?” In other words, why does anything at all exist? This, for Leibniz, is the most fundamental question that a person can ask. Like me, Leibniz came to the conclusion that the answer is to be found, not in the universe of created things, but in God. God exists necessarily and is the explanation why anything else exists. We can put Leibniz’s thinking into the form of a simple argument. This has the advantage of making his logic very clear, and focusing our attention on the central steps of his reasoning, and it also serves to make his argument very easy to memorize. There are basically three steps, or premises, in Leibniz’s reasoning:
1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
That’s it. Now, what follows logically from these three premises? Well, look at premises (1) and (3). If everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, and the universe exists, then it follows logically that:
4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
Now notice that premise (2) says that, if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. And we have seen in premise, or step, (4) that the universe has an explanation of its existence. And so from (2) and (4) it logically follows that:
5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.
Now this is a logically air tight argument. That is to say, if the three premises are true than the conclusion is unavoidable. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the conclusion, it doesn’t matter if you have other objections to God’s existence. So long as you grant the premises you have to accept the conclusion. So if anyone wants to reject the conclusion he has to say that one of the three premises is false. But which one will he reject? Premise (3), that the universe exists, I think is indisputable for anyone who is a sincere inquirer after truth – obviously the universe exists. So the argument’s detractor is going to have to deny either (1) or (2) if he wants to remain an atheist and be rational. So the whole question comes down to this: are premises (1) and (2) true or are they false? Well let’s look at them.
At first blush, premise (1) seems vulnerable to an obvious objection. If everything that exist has an explanation of its existence, and God exists, then God must have an explanation of his existence. But that seems absurd; for then the explanation of God’s existence would have to be some other being greater than God. But since that is impossible, premise (1) must be false. Some things must be able to exist without any explanation. The theist will say that God exists inexplicable, the atheist will say, why not just stop with the universe, the universe just exists inexplicably. So we see to reach a stalemate.
Well, not so fast. This obvious objection to premise (1) is based on a misunderstanding of what Leibniz meant by an explanation. In Leibniz’s view there are two kinds of things: A) things that exist necessarily and B) things which are produced by some external cause. Let me explain. Things which exist necessarily exist by a necessity of their own nature, it is impossible for them not to exist. Many mathematicians think that numbers, sets, and other mathematical objects exists in this way. They are not caused to exist by something else, they just exist by the necessity of their own nature. By contrast, things that are caused to exist by something else don’t exist necessarily, they exist because something else has produced them. Familiar physical objects like people, planets and galaxies belong to this category. So when Leibniz says that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, that explanation may be found either in the necessity of a thing’s own nature or else in some external cause. So, premise (1) could be revised in the following way:
1*. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
But now the objection falls to the ground, for the explanation of God’s existence lies in the necessity of his own nature. As even the atheist recognizes, it is impossible for God to have a cause. So Leibniz’s argument is really an argument for God as a necessary, uncaused being. Far from undermining Leibniz’s argument, the atheist’s objection to premise (1) actually helps to clarify and magnify who God is. If God exists then he is a necessarily existing uncaused being.
So, what reason might we offer for thinking that premise (1) is true? Well, when you reflect on it, premises (1) has a sort of self-evidence about it. Imagine you are walking through the woods and you come upon a translucent ball lying on the forest floor. You would automatically wonder how it came to be there. If one of your hiking partner said to you, “Don’t worry about it, it just exists inexplicably!” you would either think that he was crazy, or you figured that he just wanted you to keep on moving. No one would take seriously the suggestion that the ball existed there with literally no explanation. Now, suppose you increase the size of the ball in the story so that it is the size of a car. That wouldn’t do anything to remove or to satisfy the demand for an explanation. Suppose it were the size of a house, same problem. Suppose it were the size of a continent, or a planet, same problem. Suppose it were the size of the entire universe, same problem. Merely increasing the size of the ball does nothing to effect the need of an explanation,
Sometimes atheists will say that premise (1) is true of everything in the universe, but is not true of the universe itself. Everything in the universe has an explanation, but the universe itself has no explanation. But this response commits what has been aptly called the taxi cab fallacy. As the 19th century atheist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer quipped, premise (1) can’t be dismissed like a hack once you have arrived at your desired destination. You can’t say that everything has an explanation of its existence and then suddenly exempt the universe. It would be arbitrary for the atheist to claim that the universe is an exception to the rule. Recall that Leibniz does not make God an exception to premise (1). Our illustration of the ball in the woods showed that merely increasing the size of the ball, even until it becomes co-extensive with the entire universe, does nothing to remove the need for some explanation of its existence. Notice too how unscientific this atheist response is. For modern cosmology, the study of the large scale structure of the universe, is devoted to a search for an explanation of the universe’s existence. The atheist’s attitude would cripple science.
So, some atheists have tried to justify making the universe an exception to premise (1). They say that it is impossible for the universe to have an explanation of its existence. Why? Well, because the explanation of the universe would have to be some prior state of affairs in which the universe did not yet exist. But that would be nothingness, and nothingness cannot be the explanation of anything. So the universe must just exist inexplicably. This line of reason is however obviously fallacies. For it just assumes that the universe is all there is, so that if there were no universe there would be nothing. In other words, the objection assumes that atheism is true. The atheist is thus begging the question, arguing in a circle. Leibniz would agree that the explanation of the universe must be a prior state of affairs in which the universe did not exist. But that state of affairs is God and his will, not nothingness. So it seems that premise (1) is more plausibly true then false, which is all that we need for a good argument.
What then about premise (2), that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God? Is it more plausibly true than false? Well what is really awkward for the atheist at this point is that premise (2) is logically equivalent to the typical atheist response to Leibniz’s argument. Two statements are logically equivalent if it is impossible for one of them to be true, and the other to be false; they stand or fall together. So what does the atheist typically say in response to Leibniz’s argument? As we have just seen, the atheist typically asserts something like the following:
A. If atheism is true, the universe has no explanation of its existence.
This is precisely what the atheist said in response to premise (1), the universe just exists, inexplicably. But (A) is logically equivalent to saying:
B. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, then atheism is not true.
(A) and (B) are logically equivalent. If atheism is true the universe has no explanation of its existence; if the universe has an explanation of its existence then atheism is not true. So (A) and (B) are logically equivalent. So you cannot affirm (A) and deny (B). But (B) is virtually synonymous with premise (2), that if the universe has an explanation of its existence then that explanation is God. So by saying, in response to premise (1), that given atheism, the universe has not explanation, the atheist is implicitly admitting premise (2), that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, then God exists. And if the universe has an explanation, according to premise (2), that explanation is God.
Besides that, premise (2) is very plausible in its own right. For think of what the universe is: all of space and time, all of spacetime reality, including all matter and energy. It follows that if the universe has a cause of its existence, that cause must be a non-physical immaterial being, beyond space and time. This is amazing. Now there are only two sorts of things that fit that description: either an abstract object, like a number, or else an unembodied mind. But abstract objects cannot cause anything, that’s part of what it means to be abstract. The number 7, for example, cannot cause any effects. So the cause of the existence of the universe cannot be an abstract object; it must, therefore, be a transcendent mind, which is what believers understand God to be.
So I hope you begin to grasp the power of Leibniz’s argument. If successful, it proves the existence of a necessary, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal creator of the universe. This is not some ill-conceived flying spaghetti monster, but an ultra-mundane being with many of the properties of the God of traditional theism. This is truly mind blowing.
So, what can the atheist say at this point? Well, he has a more radical alternative open to him. He can retrace his steps, withdraw his objection to premise (1) and say instead, yes, the universe does have an explanation of its existence, but that explanation is the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature. For the atheist, the universe could serve as a sort of God substitute which exists necessarily. Now this would be a very radical step for the atheist to take, and I cannot think of any contemporary atheist philosopher who has in fact taken this line. A few years ago at a Philosophy of Time conference at City College in Santa Barbara, California, I thought that Professor Adolf Grünbaum, a vociferous atheistic philosopher of science from the University of Pittsburgh, was flirting with this idea. But when I raised the question from the floor, whether he thought the universe existed necessarily, he was quite indignant at the suggestion. “Of course not!” he snapped and he went on to say that the universe just exists without any explanation.
The reason why atheists are not eager to embrace this alternative is clear. As we look about the universe none of the things that make it up, whether stars, planets, galaxies, dust, radiation, or what have you, seems to exist necessarily, they could all fail to exist. Indeed, at some point in the past when the universe was very dense, none of them did exist.
But, someone might say, what about the matter of which these things are made? Maybe the matter exists necessarily, and all of these things are just different configurations of matter. The problem with this suggestion is that, according to the standard model of subatomic physics, matter itself is composed of tiny particles called “quarks.” The universe just is the collection of all these quarks arranged in different ways. But now the question arises: couldn’t a collection of different quarks have existed instead of this one? Does each and every one of these quarks exist necessarily? It seems crazy to say that each and every quark in the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature, so that this is the only collection of quarks that could possibly have existed. Notice what the atheist cannot say at this point. He cannot say that the quarks are just configurations of matter which could have been different, but that the matter of which the quarks are composed exists necessarily. He can’t say this because the quarks are not composed of anything, they just are the basic units of matter. So if a quark doesn’t exist, the matter doesn’t exist.
But it seems obvious that a different collection of quarks could have existed instead of the collection that does, in fact, exist. But if that there the case then a different universe would have existed. To see the point, think about your shoes, the ones that you have on right now. Could the shoes that you are wearing be made of steel? Now certainly we can imagine that you could have had a pair of steel shoes the same shape and size as the shoes you are wearing, but that is not my question. The question is whether the very shoes you are wearing, whether those shoes, could have been made of steel. I think the answer is obviously not, they would be a different pair of shoes, not the same pair of shoes that you have on. And the same is true of the universe. A universe made up of different quarks, even if identically arranged as in this universe, would be a different universe.
One thinks of the famous case of the indigent man who darned his silk stockings with wool until he finally wound up with a pair of wool stockings. The wool stockings were clearly not identical to the original silk stockings. Now it might be said that if the man had darned his socks with silk, then the ultimate outcome would have been the same pair of stockings despite their having none of the matter of the original pair. Or, less controversial, I remain identical over time despite a complete exchange of the material constituents of my body for new constituents. Analogously, it might be said, universes could be identical across possible worlds even though they are composed of wholly different collections of quarks. The disanalogy, however, is that the difference across possible worlds is no kind of change at all, for there is no enduring subject which undergoes intrinsic change from one state to another, so it is more like the case of comparing pairs of stockings or human bodies which have no connection with each other whatsoever.
My claim here becomes even more obvious when we reflect that it seems entirely possible that the fundamental building blocks of nature could have been substances quite different from quarks and so characterized by different laws of nature. Even if the basic laws of nature are taken to be broadly logically necessary, it is possible that different laws of nature could have held because substances endowed with different dispositions and capacities than quarks could have existed instead. To think that, in such a case, we should be dealing with the same universe would be like thinking that a particular pane of glass, say the windshield in your car, could retain its identity if it was made of steel. This is obviously absurd.
No atheist, I think, will be so bold as to suggest that some quarks, though qualitatively identical to ordinary quarks, have the special occult property of being metaphysically necessary. It is all or nothing here. But no one thinks that every quark exists by a necessity of its own nature. It follows that neither does the universe composed of such quarks exist by a necessity of its own nature. Notice that this is the case whether we think of the universe as an object in its own right, just as a block of marble is not identical to a block of the same shape constituted by different marble. Or, if we think of the universe as an aggregate or group, just as a flock of birds is not identical to a similar flock composed of different birds. Or even if we think of the universe as nothing at all over and above the quarks themselves.
A second reason for thinking that the universe does not exist by a necessity of its own nature is that we have strong astrophysical evidence that the universe began to exist. An essential property of a necessary being is eternality, that is to say, being without beginning or end. Anything which comes into existence at a certain time can fail to exist, and therefor is not necessary in its being. In one of the most startling developments of modern science, we now have pretty strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning about 13 billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang. What makes the Big Bang so startling is that it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing. For all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, come into being at the Big Bang. As the physicist P. C. W. Davies explains,
the coming-into-being of the universe, as discussed in modern science . . . is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organization . . . upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing.
Of course, alternative theories has been proposed over the years to try to avoid this absolute beginning, but none of these theories has commended itself to the scientific community as more plausible than the Big Bang Theory. In fact in 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which is on average in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be eternal in the past, but must have had an absolute beginning. Vilenkin pulls no punches,
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape; they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.
The beginning of the universe not only reveals the contingency of the universe, it also shows the universe to be contingent in a very special way. It came into existence from nothing. This is significant, for it not only undermines the claim of the radical atheist who maintains that the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature, but it also thrusts the more traditional atheist who would answer Leibniz by holding that the universe is the exception to the principle of sufficient reason – that it exists inexplicably – into a very awkward position of maintaining, not merely that the universe exists eternally without an explanation, but rather that for no reason at all it magically popped into being out of nothing, a position which might make theism look like a welcome alternative. So atheists have not been so bold as to deny premise (2) and say that the universe exists necessarily; premise (2) also seems to be plausibly true. But then given that the universe exists the remainder of the argument follows.
There is one last way that the atheist might try to escape Leibniz’s argument. He might say that, while there are no beings that exist necessarily, nevertheless it is necessary that something or other exists. He will agree with the theist that it is impossible that nothing exists, but he thinks that the proper conclusion to be drawn from this fact is not that a necessary being exists but that necessarily some contingent being or other exists. This is akin to saying that, while necessarily every object has a shape, nonetheless, there is no particular shape which everything necessarily has. In the same way, it is necessary that something or other exists but there isn’t anything that exists necessarily. In short, premise (1) is, on this view, false after all. The universe exists contingently and inexplicably. Some universe must exist, yes, but there is no explanation why the universe exists.
Alexander Pruss has pointed out that this view has an extremely implausible consequence. It is plausible that no conjunction of claims about the non-existence of various beings entails, say, that a unicorn exists. After all how could the fact that certain things do not exist entail that some other contingent thing does exist. But on the present atheist view, the conjunction “there are no mountains, there are no people, there are no planets, there are no rocks, etc., including everything that is not a unicorn,” entails that there is a unicorn. For if it is necessary that contingent beings exist, and none of the other contingent beings exist, then the only thing left is a unicorn. Hence a conjunction about the nonexistence of certain things entails that a unicorn exists, which seems absurd.
Moreover, on this view, there is nothing which would account for why there exists contingent beings in every possible world. Since there is no necessary being there is nothing that could cause contingent beings to exist in every possible world, and no explanation why every world includes contingent beings. There is no strict logical inconsistency in the concept of a world which is devoid of contingent beings. What accounts for the fact that in every possible world contingent beings exist? Given the infinity of broadly logically possible worlds, the odds that in all of them contingent beings just happen, inexplicably, to exist, is infinitesimal. Hence the probability of the atheist’s hypothesis is effectively zero. Hence this last gambit fails as well.
In conclusion then, given the truth of the three premisses, the conclusion is logically inescapable. God is the explanation of the universe’s existence. Moreover, the argument implies that God is an uncaused, unembodied mind which transcends the physical universe, and even space and time themselves, and who exists necessarily. And he is the explanation for why anything at all exists.
Well, that completes the thoughts that I wanted to share with you this evening so now we will open to whatever questions you might have.
QUESTION: Really enjoyed it, I appreciate you coming. Do you mind if I ask two questions, one of them a clarification question? The first premise, everything that exists has an explanation, is the explanation coterminous with cause?
DR. CRAIG: No. Because, as I said, for things which exist by a necessity of their own nature, they are uncaused. So, take numbers for example. Many mathematicians think that numbers exist necessary, but they are not caused by anything, they just exist by a necessity of their own nature, they are logically necessary beings and so it is impossible that they do not exist.
FOLLOWUP: The second question would be, how would you response to a Humean style skeptical, which says we can’t have any ideas which do not first come through our impressions, because if we can’t have an idea that doesn’t come through an impression then how can we talk of a necessary being?
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, well even Hume would, I think, obviously agree with the laws of logic, so that laws of logical and mathematics, he would think of these as analytic truths which are not informative. But I am trying to think of what in this argument would be something that is a priori. I mean the defense that I gave of premise (1) did appeal to experience, so I guess I don’t see that, even for a Humean, how this argument is so unacceptable. And of course one could just challenge that notion, too, that the only informative truths that we know are found through sense impressions. Mathematics, for example, are generally not regarded as part of logic. That was a project that Bertrand Russell and Whitehead pursued, to try to show that mathematics is just an extension of logic, but that project failed. There are mathematical truths that seem to be logically necessary but they are not just by definition, they are not just analytically true, so I think that one could easily challenge this Humean dogma. But even given it, this isn’t a sort of a priori argument, it does appeal to experience.
QUESTION: I actually have two questions, and one follows into the other. The first is, how would you respond to someone bringing up the statement that human beings are at last four dimensional in the fact that we have the three physical dimensions, along with time. And that, regardless of the other dimensions that human beings may or may not exist in, those four are very apparent, and even the most die hard atheists would acknowledge the existence of all four. That being said, if human beings are limited in our perception of the reality around us, could you say that the universe does have an explanation, there was a prior state of events before the inception of the universe but however, that prior state of affairs is not explainable through our limited perception of reality. If we are looking at the universe with tunnel vision, and incapable of perceiving it in an ideal and potentially complete perception, can it be that the universe has an explanation for its existence, but that we simply are not capable of explaining it?
DR. CRAIG: I don’t think there is anything in this argument that is at all inconsistent with thinking of reality as being four-dimensional in nature, that the ultimate spacetime reality is a four-dimensional geometrical object and we are a part of that. The question that Leibniz would want to know is, why does that four-dimensional spacetime reality exist, what is the explanation of its existence? And to explain that you are going to have to appeal to something that is beyond space and time and then it gets right into the argument then that I gave that will lead you to, I think, a theistic concept of God.
FOLLOWUP: So do you think it is possible that there is an explanation that does explain the inception of a four-dimensional reality that we exist in that does not necessitate the existence of a God?
DR. CRAIG: Not without positing, I think, further higher dimensions. But then if you do that then Leibniz will simply ask for the reason for the existence of that thing, what is the explanation of the existence of, say, this 11-dimensional superstring theoretical model of the universe, of which our four-dimensional universe is our perceptual experience? And so it will just push the argument back a notch and the whole argument can be rerun again on that higher dimensional reality.
FOLLOWUP: So Leibniz would just say that regardless of the existence of any number of higher or extra dimensions, the logic of his original three suppositions does not actually change, simply because even those would have to exist in our understanding of existence, and if that is the case, then the explanations would have to exist as well?
DR. CRAIG: That’s right. The word “universe” where it appears in premise (2) will simply expand to take in these extra dimensions of space and time that go beyond the four that we experience, and the question will be then, what is the explanation of the existence of this multiverse, if you will, of which our universe is a part. So this argument, as Leibniz gave it, isn’t wedded to a particular cosmology at all.
QUESTION: I’m just looking for a little clarification. You mentioned a couple times things like numbers and the laws of logic as being things that exist of necessity and would therefore be uncaused, that they would have to exist and be eternal. But if that is true then would those not be elements of the universe that exist of necessity, therefore even if God did not exist, they would still exist, and so therefore that would be something which exists apart from God and therefore contradicts the concept?
DR. CRAIG: Yes, you should have come to my philosophy colloquium paper that I gave this afternoon, which was on that subject. I don’t think there are other necessary beings than God, but I use the example of mathematical objects as an illustration to help people understand the idea of a necessary being who have never confronted this notion before. There are many mathematicians and philosophers who do believe that mathematical objects exist and exist necessarily. And indeed they think that there are lots of these necessary beings, not just mathematical objects, but things like propositions, properties, functions, all sorts of things that are posited as necessarily existing objects. I don’t believe in the existence of those things myself, for the reason you just stated. But nevertheless they would serve as possible candidates for the office of necessary being, in case someone wonders, well, what are you talking about.
QUESTION: Hi. What part of this argument denies the existence of many necessary beings or even a necessary force, rather then, a necessary God?
DR. CRAIG: Yeah. I don’t think there is anything in this argument that denies that there could be a plurality of necessary beings. So my reason for responding to the last question was a theological reason; that for theological reasons, I don’t think that there is a plurality of necessary beings. But there is nothing in this argument, it seems to me, that says that there could not be a plurality of necessary beings.
FOLLOWUP: So, God could be just a necessary force, or even there could be multiple necessary beings, rather than just one?
DR. CRAIG: Right. Suppose you do believe that numbers exist necessarily. Then the argument would give you God and all of these numbers as part of what you believe exists. There would be God plus all of these numbers, or maybe you think there are propositions in addition to God that exist as necessary beings. But you still have to get an explanation of the universe’s existence and, as I said, an abstract object will not be able to give you that because abstract objects like numbers and propositions don’t have causal effects. So if you were to say to me, then on what basis would you justify, on this argument alone, on believing that there is only one God? I think I would just say Ockham’s razor which says, don’t postulate causes beyond necessity. We are only warranted in positing such causes which are necessary to explain the effect. And multiplying causes beyond necessity would be a violation of Ockham’s razor, and for that reason we would be warranted in accepting the existence of God as the best explanation of the universe but we would be unwarranted if we were to go on and infer that there is a plurality of such beings.
QUESTION: A question I have struggled with is, what God’s motive would have been in the first place for creating the universe anyway? Do we need to have to explain that here?
DR. CRAIG: No, this argument just gets you to the existence of God as the sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, but it doesn’t say anything about his motivation. I would respond to that, again, from the standpoint of theology. If you think of God as a self-sufficient being, who has no need of anything outside himself, there cannot be any need that he had to satisfy in order to create the universe. We shouldn’t think of God as being lonely, or needing company, and therefore he made creature to be his companions, or anything. So given that God is a perfect, self-sufficient being, the only reason that I can think for his producing creatures, would be for the benefit of the creatures themselves. It would be to create finite persons in his image who are capable of coming into relationship with himself, the fount of all goodness, and infinite value, and love, and truth, and allowing these finite persons to have the privilege of knowing him as their highest good. So that creation would be for the benefit and for the sake of the creatures, not for the sake of benefit of the creator. So that on this view, creation, like salvation, is completely by grace alone. It would be completely by grace that creation takes place.
QUESTION: So I worry about premise (1), and I think about why we might find it plausible in the first place. And so I think it does have a lot of original plausibility, you see things, and you wonder, well, how did that happen, and why is it there, as we go about our day. Everything we see on a daily basis seems to be created. But then as we find out more about the way the world works and the sort of scientific details about subatomic particles, it seems the more you find out the weirder things gets. And as the weirder things get, it seems like I am less inclined to think that there needs to be an explanation of those things because the kinds of things we are talking about are very different. So between regular ordinary objects and subatomic objects it seems like they are really very different, and so different that maybe premise (1) doesn't apply to say, subatomic objects. And likewise I think actually as you scale up my inclination to apply premise (1) to the whole universe kind of goes away as I think bigger and bigger.
DR. CRAIG: Well I have already given my response to the second part of that question and that is, just increasing the size of the object, I just can’t see anything in that that would remove the need for or satisfy the demand for an explanation. Now with respect to quantum events or subatomic events, notice that this is deliberately formulated to try to avoid saying that every event has an explanation. This is entirely consistent with there being events that are purely random or uncaused or the product of free will, or something of this sort. What this is talking about is that things that exist have to have an explanation for their being, and that is not violated in quantum physics. The quantum vacuum which underlies of all physical reality is a sea of fluctuating energy and is the cause for things like virtual particles that arise out of the vacuum, have a brief existence, and then disappear back into the vacuum again. So even on indeterministic accounts of quantum events it isn’t the case that things exist which have no explanation of their being, quite the contrary. Moreover I want to add this, that although the equations, the mathematics of quantum mechanics, has been fantastically verified to an incredible degree of accuracy, there are at least 10 different physical interpretations of the mathematics that I can think of and most of those are thoroughly deterministic. It is only interpretations like the Copenhagen interpretation which has indeterminism in it which is really ontological rather than epistemic. So that most of the physical interpretations of quantum mechanics are thoroughly deterministic and would present no problem at all to every thing that exists having an explanation, and nobody knows which of these 10 interpretations, if any, is correct. Indeed, many physicists are very dissatisfied with what is sometimes called the mumbo-jumbo of the Copenhagen interpretation, precisely because of the quantum weirdness that you described. We are not by any means committed by the evidence or the mathematical formulas to this kind of weird Copenhagen interpretation. There are other interpretations that are completely deterministic. And so there is nothing in experimental science that would cause us to think that premise (1) is not true.
FOLLOWUP: And to someone whose inclination to accept premise (1) decreases at different sizes, would you just say that they are not being consistent?
DR. CRAIG: Yes, I’m not sure what more I could say to someone like that, except maybe to try to do as I did in a sort of gradualist way and I think that they would find themselves in a very difficult situation of saying, well, when does the object become big enough that it no longer needs an explanation, or at what centimeter increase will it cross that line, and then challenge him to tell me something about the object that now makes it in need of an explanation that it didn’t have before. I hope that would illicit enough discomfort in the person to say, why am I being so skeptical in digging in my heels about this? This ought to be the default position. I think the default position is that things have explanations unless you can give a good reason as to why it doesn’t have or can’t have an explanation.
QUESTION: So, looking at premise (1), the reason you gave that the universe has to have an external cause, and cannot necessarily exist, is because it is expanding and seems to have been created at a moment, that it did not exist and then it existed, hence it cannot necessarily exist.
DR. CRAIG: Almost, almost. I gave actually two reasons why I think the universe doesn’t exist by a necessity of its own nature. My first one was based upon the fact that it seems that everything in the universe is contingent, including the quarks out of which it is made, and that therefore it seems obvious that a different collection of quarks could exist than those which do. The atheist would have to say, not simply that the universe exists necessarily, but that every single quark exists by a necessity of it own nature, and that just seems crazy to me. That was my first argument, based upon the composition of the universe. The second one was the fact that any necessarily existing being has to exist eternally, and therefore if something begins to exist that shows that it could fail to exist and therefore is not necessary in its being. I wouldn’t put that as you did where you said something like, the universe didn’t exist, and then it did. It is more radical than that because there isn’t any “then” prior to the existence of the universe, this is the beginning of time itself. So there is no before at which the universe did not exist. It is rather that the universe came into existence, along which space and time, a finite time ago.
FOLLOWUP: OK, then, if I may, I guess I’ll just change my example that I thought of, that was what I wanted to clarify. I was trying to think of a reason that the universe might necessarily exist but now I think I just have an idea for why it might have eternally existed. So think about perhaps if all the black holes in the universe eventually swallow up all the matter in the universe, and they swallow up each other, then everything is reduced to a singularity, right, this is probably going to happen. Then, perhaps at that moment, a force can be created that would cause it all to expand again just like it did in the Big Bang, and this would mean that perhaps for this moment time was again included, but then time would come to be again. And this may have happened before our Big Bang such that the universe may be doing this over and over again, contracting, expanding, contracting, expanding. So then there wouldn’t have to be the explanation of an external cause to create it out of nothing, it would just be expanding and then shrinking again.
DR. CRAIG: Right, these types of models were called oscillating models, and they were floated in the 1960’s, and the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems tended to put a deathnell to these oscillating models because what the singularity theorem showed was, as you said, that a universe that is in gravitational self collapse will go down into a singularity, and that there time and space will simply come to an end. It is physically impossible for anything to pass through a singularity to re-expand and start a new universe again. So the model is physically impossible; you would have to have some sort of new physics that is contrary to what we now know in order for this to happen. A second difficulty is that if the universe could oscillate like that, scientists discovered that entropy would be conserved from cycle to cycle; that is to say, the second law of thermodynamics would show that entropy would continue to increase in each oscillation. And this has the peculiar effect of making each oscillation have a larger radius and a longer expansion time, so that the expansions would get bigger and bigger and bigger. What that means is, as you trace the cycles back in time they get smaller and smaller and smaller until you finally come to an absolute beginning of the universe. So this multi-cycled model you described has an infinite future but only a finite past. So it turns out not to avoid the beginning of the universe that its original modelers crafted it to avoid. There are other versions of the oscillating models that are back into discussion again today but none of them has been able to be extended into the infinite past. That it the real difficulty. The problem is not just how do you get the universe to bounce from a contraction to an expansion, but how can you extend it into an infinite past. And that has been the mettlesome problem with all these oscillating models, they cannot seem to be extended to infinity past.
FOLLOWUP: I guess in order to be able to do that you would need some kind of new physics which we do not have access to.
DR. CRAIG: Right, right, it would have to be something that is contrary to what we do know now of physics. And of course that is always possible, that is why science is always tentative. But one can say that Leibniz’s argument, I think, enjoys the support of contemporary science.
QUESTION: Can you compare the necessity of God versus the necessity of the universe, or is there not a good equivocation there? Because, as you mentioned earlier, some radical atheist might go to the point of saying that the universe is necessary. Would that then also entail that some radical theologians would say that God is necessary? I am just wondering what the disconnect is there.
DR. CRAIG: Well, that wouldn’t be the analogy, because it is the conservative, traditional theologians who say that God exists necessarily. That is Leibniz’s view, that God is a necessary being. That is the traditional view. And we would be meaning it in exactly the same way, we would mean that there is no possible world in which God fails to exist or, for the radical atheist, there is no possible world in which our universe fails to exist. So the use of the word necessary there is the same for both of those, there is no equivocation. The question just is, is it plausible to think that our universe exists necessarily in that way? And I gave two arguments as to why I think that is quite implausible.
QUESTION: Hello. I have a couple of questions. The first has to do with the necessity-of-its-own-nature being. At one point you said it either has to be an abstract number of some sort or an unembodied mind. And at one point you mentioned a couple of necessary qualities that such an unembodied mind would have to possess, including timelessness, spacelessness, and immateriality. But then you added one at the very end, that it would have to be personal, and I was wondering why such a being would have to necessitate personality?
DR. CRAIG: Well, I take it that that is what a mind is, that a mind is a person. So, to me, as I was using the word mind, that is what I meant.
FOLLOWUP: OK, good. The second question has to do with those beings which exist based on an external cause. So something that exists based on an external cause, that means that humans beings exist based on external causes. And I was wondering if this necessitates determinism. That is to say, you coming to Wake Forest and presenting this argument happened because it was impossible for anything else to do so, or for anyone in the audience to accept or reject this argument happens because it was impossible for anything else to happen. And if these external causes necessitate determinism why would any of what we are talking about matter? Does this allow us to retain free will?
DR. CRAIG: I think it does, because, as I said to the other fellow here who asked about these quantum events which are indeterminate, like the decay of a radioactive isotope that seems to be unpredictable, and I said that I deliberately formulate premise (1) to be consistent with the fact that not every event has a cause. Now Leibniz, I think, did think that every event does have a cause. His premise (1) was actually much stronger than this. His principle of sufficient reason was very strong – that every truth, every fact has an explanation of its existence. And mine is much, much more modest. Mine is simply that any thing that exists has an explanation for its existence. And than is quite compatible with freedom of the will, quantum indeterminacy, randomness, and things of that sort, so I don’t think that that precludes those.
FOLLOWUP: So you would say that thoughts and actions and motivations do not exist in the same way that material objects exist?
DR. CRAIG: Right, I guess that is what I would say, I think.
QUESTION: I just want to ask you for a quick clarification. Earlier there was a question about whether this argument might lead to multiple necessary beings, and I was thinking that through and I was wondering: if it is necessary that a necessary being be infinite, how could you have more than one of them? Because if they are both infinite then wouldn’t they be the same thing?
DR. CRAIG: This is a good question. It is not obvious to me that this gives you the infinity of the necessary being. Now maybe you could provide some supplementary argumentation. But I didn’t ever claim, and I’m not clear how, showing that the universe has an explanation of its existence in a necessary being would show that that necessary being is infinite.
FOLLOWUP: It can’t be dependent on anything else, can it?
DR. CRAIG: Right, it couldn’t depend on anything else, but when you say infinite, well I guess you would need to clarify what you mean by that, like, it wouldn’t show that it is omnipotent, or omniscient; all-knowing or all-powerful I mean; it might be.
FOLLOWUP: So it could still be limited even though it is a necessary being?
DR. CRAIG: Right, right. For example, the number 7, if you are a mathematician who believes in numbers, the number 7 would necessarily exist but it wouldn’t be all-powerful; in fact it has no power at all, it is completely effete. So being necessary doesn’t mean that you are endowed with a great deal of power, unless you could provide some sort of supplementary argument. For example, here is an argument that the medieval philosophers sometimes gave. If God is the cause of the universe out of nothing, then he must be all-powerful because there is, so to speak, an infinite distance between being and nonbeing and to bring something into being, not out of previously existing materials but to bring something absolutely into being, would require infinite power. So that one might try to argue from the fact that the universe has been created from nothing that this necessary being must have infinite power. And I find that to be an attractive argument, I like that argument. I think it is plausible. But that would be, as I say, supplementary to this, rather than really a part of this. And, I want to say, if you do have a being that is necessarily existing and infinite in power, then I agree with you I don’t think you could have more than one of them because if you have more than one of them they would limit each other. It would be like the irresistible force and the immovable object. And so if you have a being of infinite power I think there can only be one of them because otherwise the other being is not within the first one’s power and therefore it is not all-powerful or infinite in power after all. So we may be getting very close to what you want to suggest here. I think you can see plausible lines of argument for arguing for monotheism using this argument as a springboard and then adding some of these supplementary thoughts. Richard Swinburne is a philosopher at Oxford University and he argues along these lines – that it would be logically impossible for there to be two omnipotent beings, that if there is an omnipotent being there can only be one of them. And I do find that to be persuasive. But the question would be, how do you show that there is an omnipotent being? And I don’t think this argument proves that but it could prove perhaps a being of infinite power in that sense of creating something from nothing and that would get you, perhaps, to the same conclusion.
QUESTION: I am curious about the argument on numbers, that they necessarily exist. Because when I was in junior high, when the subject of division by zero would come up, we would be told, well that is undefined and that would end the argument, it is undefined. And by the same token an atheist could say, what existed before the singularity of the Big Bang, an atheist could say, well, that is undefined so there is no point in going into that. And to use the terminology of infinite, I think I learned in geometry that a line one inch long has an infinite amount of points and so does a line that is two feet long or a line that is nine miles long. So the infinite is a term that is kind of undefined in my mind as far as numbers go. How would I respond, being that I consider myself a Christian and I like to get into discussions with atheists, when that argument comes up, well it is undefined and so there is no point in talking about it.
DR. CRAIG: OK, you’ve raised some really interesting questions. Let me tease these apart and get after them. When mathematicians say that division by zero is undefined, what that means is, that it cannot have an answer because it leads to self-contradictions. If you try to do division by zero you can wind up proving self-contradictions. But there is no self-contradiction in the view of contemporary cosmology or Big Bang theory, that time and space came into being at the singularity about 13.7 billion years ago. So when you say “it is undefined what existed before,” you are not using the word in the same way that mathematicians use that word when they say that division by zero is undefined. There is no contradiction in Big Bang cosmology or in thinking that the universe and time and space had an absolute beginning, and there was simply nothing before it. It just was the beginning. There is nothing undefined about that in any objectionable sense. Now with respect to infinity, the idea that a line has an infinite number of points regardless of the length of the line – or even in a plane (you can extend it), a plane has the same number of points in it as a one inch line and cube has the same number of points in it that a one inch line does – that is because the infinite in set theory has been defined in a very precise way; namely, any set which has a proper subset which is equivalent to the original set is infinite. And when they say equivalent they mean you can have a one to one correspondence between the member of these two sets, and that is what you can do with the points in a one inch line and the points in a cube. You can arrange a one to one correspondence so that every point in the line has a point in the cube, and every point in the cube has a point in the line. So it isn’t a matter of being undefined at all, on the contrary, this result is precisely because of very specific definitions that have been given to the concepts of equivalence and size in mathematical set theory. And one would only need to add that when we talk about the infinity of God’s being we are not using the words there in a mathematical sense. God is not a composite of definite and discrete finite particulars the way a set is, or a line is, composed of points. So when philosophers and theologians talk about God’s infinity it is not a quantitative concept. It is, if you will, a qualitative concept. It means that God is holy, perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, eternal, necessary. Infinity is just the umbrella term for all of these superlative attributes which are not quantitative concepts, so it is just a very different use of the word infinity than is used in set theory. It is a different definition, I mean we use words in different ways in different fields, and when the mathematician talks about infinity it is a very carefully defines quantitative concept, but when a theologian says something like, God is infinite love, he is not using that word in that mathematical quantitative way, he is using it in a more qualitative sense.
QUESTION: Wow, that is too much math for me. But thanks for coming out here, I wanted to thank you. But I wanted to also ask about a possible logical fallacy, perhaps, in your argument. Unfortunately I can’t remember the term for the exact fallacy, but I am going to use an analogy or metaphor to help bring the analogy. So I have got this muffler, right, and it won’t go, so I try to make it bigger, and it still won’t have the property of being able to propel itself forward. But then I take the different parts of a car and then put them together, and then the sum of the parts has a different property than the individual parts. So the glass ball analogy, by making the glass bigger won’t necessarily be the correct analogy because the universe might be the sum of parts that have different properties then the individual.
DR. CRAIG: OK, what you are referring to is the fallacy of composition and that is relevant to my argument tonight but not in the place where you think it is relevant. It is not relevant to the part about increasing the size of the ball, so that the little ball needs an explanation but the big ball no longer needs one, because there there is no composition, you see, we are just making the thing bigger. There is no composition at all. Where it would be relevant would be with my argument about the quarks, because there, you remember, I was arguing that when you look at the things in the universe nothing in the universe seems to be necessary – galaxies, dust, radiations, comets. Nothing seems to be necessary so why think that the universe exists necessarily? And the proper response to that would be, right, nothing in the universe, nothing of which the universe is composed is necessary, but the universe as a whole could still be necessary. And for me to reason from the contingency of the parts to the contingency of the whole, one might accuse me the fallacy of composition, do you see the relevance of your argument there?
FOLLOWUP: Yes, well I just had a problem with the glass ball getting larger being the correct analogy for, OK, the universe as a whole ought to be same as enlarging one of its parts.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, that is not the argument though. Because I am not compounding things.
FOLLOWUP: It just seems to me that the uni