The Existence of God
Articles on natural theology, featuring defenses of the cosmological, teleological, and axiological arguments and responses to critics of those arguments.
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Oxford University Press, 2011. 359 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-981209-7. Hardcover $27.95.
Graham Oppy has emerged as one of the kalam cosmological argument’s most formidable opponents. He rejects all four of the arguments drawn from metaphysics and physics for the second premiss that the universe began to exist. He also thinks that we have no good reason to accept the first premiss that everything that begins to exist has a cause. In this response, I hope to show that the kalam cosmological argument is, in fact, considerably stronger than Oppy claims, surviving even his trenchant critique.
Wes Morriston argues that even if we take an endless series of events to be merely potentially, rather than actually, infinite, still no distinction between a beginningless and an endless series of events has been established which is relevant to arguments against the metaphysical possibility of an actually infinite number of things: if a beginningless series is impossible, so is an endless series. The success of Morriston's argument, however, comes to depend on rejecting the characterization of an endless series of events as a potential infinite. It turns out that according to his own analysis it is vitally relevant whether the series of events is potentially, as opposed to actually, infinite. If it is reasonable to maintain that an endless series of events is potentially infinite while a beginningless series is actually infinite, then a relevant distinction has been established for any person who thinks that an actual infinite cannot exist.
“Taking Tense Seriously in Differentiating Past and Future: A Response to Wes Morriston.” Faith and Philosophy 27 (2010): 451-6.
Graham Oppy’s interesting analysis of the “causal shape” of reality conflates causal ordering with temporal ordering of causes and assigns the wrong causal shape to reality as conceived by many classical theists. His argument for the possibility of uncaused beginnings is also hobbled by his tendency to ignore the crucial issue of the objective reality of tense and temporal becoming. Oppy’s claims that only certain types of things can come into being uncaused at a first moment of time and that things cannot now come into being uncaused are examined and found implausible and explanatorily vacuous.
Faith and Philosophy 27 (2010): 72-78. Reprinted with permission.
In the first part of Theism and Ultimate Explanation Timothy O’Connor provides a compact survey of the metaphysics and epistemology of modality, defending modal realism and a priorism. In the book’s second half he defends a Leibnizian-style cosmological argument for an absolutely necessary being. He seeks to answer four questions: (1) Is the idea of a necessary being coherent? (2) In what way is the postulation of such a being explanatory? (3) Does the assumption of necessary being commit us to denying the very contingency of mundane things which it is meant to explain? (4) What are the implications of necessary being for theology? In this review I highlight a few of the obscurities and apparent weaknesses of this otherwise commendable book.
"Timothy O’Connor on Contingency: A Review essay on Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008)," Philosophia Christi 12 (2010): 181-8.
Vilenkin's recent book is a wonderful popular introduction to contemporary cosmology. It contains provocative discussions of both the beginning of the universe and of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. Vilenkin is a prominent exponent of the multiverse hypothesis, which features in the book's title. His defense of this hypothesis depends in a crucial and interesting way on conflating time and space. His claim that his theory of the quantum creation of the universe explains the origin of the universe from nothing trades on a misunderstanding of "nothing."
"Vilenkin's Cosmic Vision: A Review Essay of Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes" Philosophia Christi (Summer 2009), 232-238. Used With Permission By The Editor www.epsociety.org
Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes. By Alexander Vilenkin. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006. 235 pages.
Graham Oppy's Arguing about Gods is a wide-ranging and penetrating critique of the arguments of natural theology. Essential to Oppy's project of showing that there are no successful theistic arguments is his account of success in argumentation. Oppy's account not only sets the bar unrealistically high but also appears to be self-defeating, since Oppy fails to provide a successful argument for the truth of his account. Nonetheless, natural theologians cannot afford to ignore Oppy's criticisms of their theistic arguments.
"Arguing Successfully About God: A Review Essay of Graham Oppy's Arguing about Gods," Philosophia Christi 10, No. 2 (2008): 435-442.
Arguing about Gods. By Graham Oppy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 449 pages.
An account of the resurgence of philosophical theism in our time, including a brief survey of prominent anti-theistic arguments such as the presumption of atheism, the incoherence of theism, and the problem of evil, along with a defense of theistic arguments like the contingency argument, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the moral argument.
"Graham Oppy on Infinity." Review Article on Philosophical Perspectives on Infinity, by Graham Oppy. Philosophia Christi 10
*Permission to publish on ReasonableFaith.org kindly permitted by Philosophia Christi
J. Howard Sobel devotes seventy pages of his wide-ranging analysis of theistic arguments to a critique of the cosmological argument. Although the focus of that critique falls on the Leibnizian argument, he also offers in passing some criticisms of the kalam cosmological argument. Sobel does not challenge the causal premiss insofar as "begins to exist" means "has a first time of its existence." Rather he disputes the arguments and evidence for the fact of the universe's beginning. I show that Sobel's rebuttals of the philosophical arguments against the infinitude of the past are in various ways misconceived or fallacious and that his response to the empirical evidence for the beginning of the universe involves a gratuitous and radical revision of contemporary astrophysical cosmogony.
"J. Howard Sobel on the Kalam Cosmological Argument." Canadian Journal of Philosophy 36 (2006): 565-84.
A review with brief responses to some of the main arguments in Sobel's wide-ranging critique of theism, including his treatment of the cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments, the problem of evil, and the problem of miracles.
Jordan Howard Sobel, Logic and Theism: Arguments for and against Beliefs in God. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 652 pp., ISBN 0 521 82607 1.
A review of William Dembski's book, The Design Inference, which provides the philosophical under-pinning for the upstart Intelligent Design movement. It is shown how Dembski's Generic Chance Elimination Argument might be applied to the so-called "fine-tuning" of the universe to yield an inference to a Cosmic Designer.
The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. By William A. Dembski. Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. xvii + 243.
Wes Morriston maintains that a negative answer to the question, "Did the First Cause exist in time prior to creation?" forces the defender of the kalam cosmological argument to analyze the concept of 'beginning to exist' in a way that raises serious doubts about the argument's main causal principle and that it also undercuts the main argument for saying that the cause of the universe must be a person.
Morriston in the first part of his critique tries to show that premiss (1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause loses much of its plausibility when it is applied to the beginning of time itself. At the heart of Morriston's denial that we have a metaphysical intuition of the principle's truth lies a dubious distinction between intra- and extratemporal beginnings. Apart from that same distinction Morriston provides no good reason to doubt the plausibility of the causal principle as an empirical generalization. His claim that the absence of a material cause of the universe is as troubling as the absence of an efficient cause backfires because in an uncaused origination of the universe we lack both. Finally, Morriston errs in thinking that a reductive analysis, if adequate, should preserve the same epistemic obviousness involved in the analysandum and in thinking that all intuitively grasped, metaphysically necessary, synthetic truths should exhibit the same self-evidence and perspicuity.
In the second part of his article Morriston, still assuming that God exists atemporally sans the universe, criticizes an argument for the personhood of the First Cause inspired by the Islamic Principle of Determination. Morriston objects that appeal to agent causation is nugatory because God's changeless state of willing the universe is sufficient for the existence of the universe and is an instance of state-state causation. The failing of Morriston's objection is that in speaking of God's willing that the universe exist, he does not differentiate between God's timeless intention to create a temporal world and God's undertaking to create a temporal world. Once we make the distinction, we see that creation ex nihilo is not (given a tensed theory of time) an instance of state-state causation and is therefore not susceptible to Morriston's objection.
"Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?" Faith and Philosophy 19 (2002): 94-105.
Graham Oppy's attempt to show that the critiques of the kalam cosmological argument offered by Grünbaum, Davies, and Hawking are successful is predicated upon a misunderstanding of the nature of defeaters in rational belief. Neither Grünbaum nor Oppy succeeds in showing an incoherence in the Christian doctrine of creation. Oppy's attempt to rehabilitate Davies's critique founders on spurious counter-examples and unsubstantiated claims. Oppy's defense of Hawking's critique fails to allay suspicions about the reality of imaginary time and finally results in the denial of tense and temporal becoming.
In treating divine action in the world, we must distinguish between creation, providence, and miracle. Creation has typically been taken to involve God's originating the world (creatio originans) and His sustaining the world in being (creatio continuans). A careful analysis of these two notions serves to differentiate creation from conservation. Providence is God's control of the world, either through secondary causes (providentia ordinaria) or supernaturally (providentia extraordinaria). A doctrine of divine middle knowledge supplies the key to understanding God's providence over the world mediated through secondary causes. Miracles are extraordinary acts of providence which should not be conceived, properly speaking, as violations of the laws of nature, but as the production of events which are beyond the causal powers of the natural entities existing at the relevant time and place.
Source: In Philosophy of Religion, ed. Brian Davies (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998), pp. 136-162
The absolute origin of the universe, of all matter and energy, even of physical space and time themselves, in the Big Bang singularity contradicts the perennial naturalistic assumption that the universe has always existed. One after another, models designed to avert the initial cosmological singularity--the Steady State model, the Oscillating model, Vacuum Fluctuation models--have come and gone. Current quantum gravity models, such as the Hartle-Hawking model and the Vilenkin model, must appeal to the physically unintelligible and metaphysically dubious device of "imaginary time" to avoid the universe's beginning. The contingency implied by an absolute beginning ex nihilo points to a transcendent cause of the universe beyond space and time. Philosophical objections to a cause of the universe fail to carry conviction.
Source: Astrophysics and Space Science 269-270 (1999): 723-740
God is conceived in the Western theistic tradition to be both the Creator and Conservor of the universe. These two roles were typically classed as different aspects of creation, originating creation and continuing creation. On pain of incoherence, however, conservation needs to be distinguished from creation. Contrary to current analyses (such as Philip Quinn's), creation should be explicated in terms of God's bringing something into being, while conservation should be understood in terms of God's preservation of something over an interval of time. The crucial difference is that while conservation presupposes an object of the divine action, creation does not. Such a construal has significant implications for a tensed theory of time.
"Creation and Conservation Once More." Religious Studies 34 (1998): 177-188.
John Taylor complains that the kalam cosmological argument gives the appearance of being a swift and simple demonstration of the existence of a Creator of the universe, whereas in fact a convincing argument involving the premiss that the universe began to exist is very difficult to achieve. But Taylor's proffered defeaters of the premisses of the philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe are themselves typically undercut due to Taylor's inadvertence to alternatives open to the defender of the kalam arguments. With respect to empirical confirmation of the universe's beginning Taylor is forced into an anti-realist position on the Big Bang theory, but without sufficient warrant for singling out that theory as non-realistic. Therefore, despite the virtue of simplicity of form, the kalam comological argument has not been defeated by Taylor's all too swift refutation.
"A Swift and Simple Refutation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument?" Religious Studies 35 (1999): 57-72.
Adolf Grünbaum claims that the question of creation is a pseudo-problem because it is incoherent to seek an external, prior cause of the Big Bang, which marks the beginning of time. This claim is unwarranted, however, for the theological creationist has a number of options available: (i) The Creator may be conceived to be causally, but not temporally, prior to the origin of the universe, such that the act of creating is simultaneous with the universe's beginning to exist; (ii) The Creator may be conceived to exist in a metaphysical time of which physical time is but a sensible measure and so to exist temporally prior to the inception of physical time; or (iii) The Creator may be conceived to exist timelessly and to cause tenselessly the origin of the universe at the Big Bang singularity. Grünbaum also claims that theological creationism is pseudo-explanatory because it is in principle impossible to specify the causal linkage between the cause and the effect in this case. At best this objection only shows that theological creationism is not a scientific explanation. In fact Grünbaum's objection strikes not against theology per se, but against all appeals to personal agency as explanatory, which evinces a narrow scientism.
Source: "Prof. Grünbaum on Creation." Erkenntnis 40 (1994): 325-341.
Quentin Smith has recently argued that (I) the universe began to exist and (II) its beginning was uncaused. In support of (II), he argues that (i) there is no reason to think that the beginning was caused by God and (ii) it is unreasonable to think so. I dispute both claims.
His case for (i) misconstrues the causal principle, appeals to false analogies of ex nihilo creation, fails to show how the origin of the universe ex nihilo is naturally plausible, and reduces to triviality by construing causality as predictability in principle. His case for (ii) ignores important epistemological questions and fails to show either that vacuum fluctuation models are empirically plausible or that they support his second claim.
"The Caused Beginning of the Universe: a Response to Quentin Smith." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1993): 623-639.
This article is Dr. Craig's Introduction to volume three of the Truth Journal on "New Arguments for the Existence of God." It charts the resurgence in our day of Philosophy of Religions and interacts briefly with the thought of such important theistic philosophers as Plantinga, Swinburne, and Leslie.
Source: Truth: A Journal of Modern Thought, vols. 3 & 4 (1991): "New Arguments for the Existence of God."
Recent discussions have raised the issue of the metaphysical implications of standard Big Bang cosmology. Grünbaum's argument that the causal principle cannot be applied to the origin of the universe rests on a pseudo-dilemma, since the cause could act neither before nor after t=0, but at t=0. Lévy-Leblond's advocacy of a remetrication of cosmic time to push the singularity to - involves various conceptual difficulties and is in any case unavailing, since the universe's beginning is not eliminated. Maddox's aversion to the possible metaphysical implications of the standard model evinces a narrow scientism. Standard Big Bang cosmogeny does therefore seem to have those metaphysical implications which some have found so discomfiting.
Source: "Creation and Big Bang Cosmology." Philosophia Naturalis 31 (1994): 217-224.
In response to my article "Creation and Big Bang Cosmology" Adolf Grünbaum argues against God's being a simultaneous cause of the Big Bang and against the inference that the Big Bang had a cause. His critique of simultaneous causation, once validly formulated, is based on an obviously false premiss, namely, that in order for simultaneous causation to be possible we must have a generally accepted criterion for discerning such causes. His most important reason for rejecting the causal inference with respect to the Big Bang is predicated on a B-Theory of time, which I find good reasons to reject.
Source: "A Response to Grünbaum on Creation and Big Bang Cosmology." Philosophia Naturalis 31 (1994): 237-249.
Adolf Grünbaum argues that the creation, as distinct from the origin, of the universe is a pseudo-problem. Grünbaum, however, seriously misconstrues the traditional argument for creation and his three groups of objections are therefore largely aimed at straw men or else misconceived. His objections to the scientific argument for creation are based on idiosyncratic definitions or deeper presuppositions which need to be surfaced and explored. He therefore falls short in his attempt to show that the question of creation is not a genuine philosophical problem.
Source: "The Origin and Creation of the Universe: a Reply to Adolf Grünbaum." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 43 (1992): 233-240.
Q. Smith contends (i) an atheistic interpretation of the Big Bang is better justified than a theistic interpretation because the latter is inconsistent with the standard Big Bang model and (ii) his atheistic interpretation offers a coherent and plausible account of the origin of the universe. But Smith's argument for (i) is multiply flawed, depending on premisses which are false or at least mootable and a key invalid inference. Smith's attempt to demonstrate the plausibility of the atheistic interpretation on the basis of its greater simplicity is based on false parallels between God and the initial cosmological singularity. Smith's effort to prove that the atheist's contention that the universe came into being uncaused out of absolutely nothing is coherent rests upon a confusion between inconceivability and unimaginability and assumes without argument that the causal principle could not be a metaphysically necessary a posteriori truth. In any case, there are good grounds for taking the principle to be a metaphysically necessary, synthetic, a priori truth, in which case the atheistic interpretation is incoherent.
"God and the Initial Cosmological Singularity: A Reply to Quentin Smith." Faith and Philosophy 9 (1992): 237-247.
Graham Oppy has attempted to re-support J. L. Mackie's objections to the kalam cosmological argument, to which I responded in my article "Professor Mackie and the Kalam Cosmological Argument." Oppy's attempt to defend the possibility of the existence of an actual infinite is vitiated by his conflation of narrowly and broadly logical possibility. Oppy's attempt to defend the possibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition founders on misinterpretations. Oppy's objections to the premiss that whatever begins to exist has a cause and to God's being that cause are based on modal confusions.
Source: "Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument." Sophia 32 (1993): 1-11.
The kalam cosmological argument, by showing that the universe began to exist, demonstrates that the world is not a necessary being and, therefore, not self-explanatory with respect to its existence. Two philosophical arguments and two scientific confirmations are presented in support of the beginning of the universe. Since whatever begins to exist has a cause, there must exist a transcendent cause of the universe.
Source: "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe." Truth: A Journal of Modern Thought 3 (1991): 85-96.
Barrow and Tipler's attempt to stave off the inference to divine design by appealing to the Weak Anthropic Principle is demonstrably logically fallacious unless one conjoins to it the metaphysical hypothesis of a World Ensemble. But there is no reason for such a postulate. Their misgivings about the alternative of divine design are shown to be of little significance.
Source: British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 38 (1988): 389-395.
Against the second premiss of the kalam cosmological argument, that the universe began to exist, J. L. Mackie objects that the arguments for it either assume an infinitely distant beginning point or fail to understand the nature of infinity. In fact, the argument does not assume any sort of beginning point, whereas Mackie himself commits the fallacy of composition. Mackie fails to show that infinite collections can be instantiated in the real world. Against the first premiss, that whatever begins to exist has a cause, Mackie objects that there is no good reason to accept a priori this premiss and that creatio ex nihilo is problematic. But Mackie does not refute the premiss and even admits its plausibility. One can resolve the conundrums of creatio ex nihilo by holding God to be timeless sans creation and temporal with creation.
Source: "Professor Mackie and the Kalam Cosmological Argument." Religious Studies 20 (1985): 367-375.
Wallace Matson objects to the second premiss of the "crude" cosmological argument, that the universe began to exist, by pointing out that the natural number series shows the logical possibility of an infinite collection of things. The cosmological argument proves only that an infinite collection cannot be formed in a finite time. But the argument asserts the real, not the logical, impossibility of an actual infinite. Nor does it assume that time is finite: one cannot explain how one infinite collection (the series of events) can be formed by successive addition merely by superimposing another (the series of moments) upon it. Matson objects to the first premiss, that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence, by asserting that if it were true, then God would also need a cause. But Matson misconstrues the premiss to state everything has a cause of its existence. The correct premiss does not imply a cause of God, since He did not begin to exist.
Source: "Wallace Matson and the Crude Cosmological Argument." Australasian Journal of Philosophy 57 (1979): 163-170.
Theism and naturalism are contrasted with respect to furnishing an adequate foundation for the moral life. It is shown that on a theistic worldview an adequate foundation exists for the affirmation of objective moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability. By contrast, naturalism fails in all three respects. Insofar as we believe that moral values and duties do exist, we therefore have good grounds for believing that God exists. Moreover, a practical argument for believing in God is offered on the basis of moral accountability.
Source: "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality." Foundations 5 (1997): 9-12.
The discovery during our generation of the so-called anthropic coincidences in the initial conditions of the universe has breathed new life into the teleological argument. Use of the Anthropic Principle to nullify our wonder at these coincidences is logically fallacious unless conjoined with the metaphysical hypothesis of a World Ensemble. There are no reasons to believe that such an Ensemble exists nor that, if it does, it has the properties necessary for the Anthropic Principle to function. Typical objections to the alternative hypothesis of divine design are not probative.
"The Teleological Argument and the Anthropic Principle." In The Logic of Rational Theism: Exploratory Essays, pp. 127-153. Edited by Wm. L. Craig and M. McLeod. Problems in Contemporary Philosophy 24. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1990.