The Case for a Creator: This Time It's Personal

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 5

To wrap up his cosmological argument, William Lane Craig comes to a laughably specific conclusion:

“A cause of space and time must be an uncaused, beginningless, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, personal being endowed with freedom of will and enormous power,” he said. [p.108]

(He didn’t add “who is three persons in one being and who sacrificed his son for the sins of the world”, but clearly he would have gotten there if this interview had been just a few pages longer.)

“After all, atheists have long maintained that the universe doesn’t need a cause, because it’s eternal. How can they possibly maintain that the universe can be eternal and uncaused, yet God cannot be timeless and uncaused?” [p.109]

Craig comes so close to grasping the point here, only to fall tragically short. As I discussed in the last installment, what atheists say isn’t that God “cannot be” uncaused; it’s that adding the extra step of an uncaused God has no explanatory power over and above just saying that the universe is uncaused. It multiplies entities beyond necessity. And Craig doesn’t get to plead ignorance of Occam’s Razor, because he himself discusses it in the very next paragraph, without even a glance back at how it applies to his own argument just a few sentences prior:

“Why does it have to be one Creator?” I asked. “Why couldn’t multiple Creators have been involved?”
“My opinion,” Craig answered, “is that Ockham’s razor would shave away any additional creators… Since one Creator is sufficient to explain the effect, you would be unwarranted in going beyond the evidence to posit a plurality.” [p.109]

But postulating just one supernatural creator isn’t “going beyond the evidence”? (I know, I know, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Sorry, can’t help myself.)

While I’m hardly going to argue for polytheism, what Craig doesn’t address is that we often see physical phenomena which are apparently at cross-purposes. There are galaxies that collide, black holes that consume stars, asteroid impacts that shatter planets, viruses that hijack cells’ protein machinery, and parasites that prey on nearly every species of living thing. If the universe is the product of intelligent design, it would seem that there are conflicting designs, which would imply the existence of multiple creators in a parsimonious way.

Now we get to the real craziness. Strobel points out, rightly, that there’s no way to establish if the first cause (if there was one) was a personal, conscious being, rather than an impersonal natural phenomenon like a vacuum fluctuation. Craig’s response is a masterpiece of apologist logic-mangling:

“You see, there cannot be a scientific explanation of the first state of the universe. Since it’s the first state, it simply cannot be explained in terms of earlier initial conditions and natural laws… So if there is an explanation of the first state of the universe, it has to be a personal explanation – that is, an agent who has volition to create it… He can create a new effect without any antecedent determining conditions.” [p.110]

In this little paragraph, Craig has smuggled in a whole theology textbook’s worth of Christian presuppositions. Let’s see if we can unpack some of them.

The model of free will he’s relying on is clearly agent causation, the idea that free will is some kind of supernatural substance that periodically bubbles up beliefs and decisions for no reason at all. This is a severely tendentious view, to say the least. There’s ample evidence that in the case of human beings, the only free-willed creatures we know of, our behavior absolutely does have prior causes, and in fact couldn’t be otherwise. We have no definitive proof that such a phenomenon as agent causation even exists, so for Craig to outright claim that this “has to be” the sort of thing that caused the universe is an attempt to pass off pure speculation as established fact. It’s as if I said, “If there’s an explanation of the first state of the universe, it has to be leprechauns.”

“…because the cause of the universe transcends time and space, it cannot be a physical reality. Instead, it must be nonphysical or immaterial. Well, there are only two types of things that can be timeless and immaterial. One would be abstract objects, like numbers… The second kind of immaterial reality would be a mind.” [p.110]

Again, this is just a set of Christian apologetic presuppositions thinly disguised as an argument. What on earth leads Craig to assert that a mind is an “immaterial reality”? Where have we ever seen a mind existing apart from a physical, material body? How can he so blithely assume that this is or ever can be the case!? (My margin notes on this section are filled with question marks and exclamation points, if you couldn’t tell.)

Following this Gish Gallop of rapid-fire assertions, Craig discusses some other models in cosmology – the oscillating universe, chaotic inflation, Hawking’s no-boundary proposal – and asserts that none of them can extend infinitely far back into the past. Even if all of this is true, which is a claim I don’t intend to examine in detail, it doesn’t matter. Craig’s argument only works if you assume that the hypotheses currently proposed to explain the beginning of the universe are the only ones that will ever be proposed, and that no alternative theory, regardless of its nature, could solve this problem. Both these assumptions are obviously false.

The ultimate origin of the cosmos is probably the most profound question that human beings will ever face, and we don’t yet know what the final answer is. It may be that one of the cosmological theories Craig dismisses is true despite him; it may be that one of these theories in modified form will do the job; or the truth may be something completely new, something that we haven’t even imagined yet. In no case, however, is it valid or legitimate to assume that our current ignorance is an indicator that the real answer is “God did it”. That hypothesis has proven itself false countless times in the past. Why should we accept this newest invocation of the God-of-the-gaps argument when all the previous instances of it have turned out to be untrue?

Other posts in this series:

Human Reproduction Is Ridiculous
The Deserved Death of Coal
The Democritean Dance
Scott Adams Can't See the Elephant
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.