The Kalam argument for the existence of God

From William Lane Craig, God Is Not Dead Yet in Christianity Today, on the new credibility of God in contemporary philosophy:

The kalam cosmological argument. This version of the argument has a rich Islamic heritage. Stuart Hackett, David Oderberg, Mark Nowacki, and I have defended the kalam argument. Its formulation is simple:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Premise (1) certainly seems more plausibly true than its denial. The idea that things can pop into being without a cause is worse than magic. Nonetheless, it’s remarkable how many nontheists, under the force of the evidence for premise (2), have denied (1) rather than acquiesce in the argument’s conclusion.

Atheists have traditionally denied (2) in favor of an eternal universe. But there are good reasons, both philosophical and scientific, to doubt that the universe had no beginning. Philosophically, the idea of an infinite past seems absurd. If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?

Moreover, a remarkable series of discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics over the last century has breathed new life into the kalam argument. We now have fairly strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past, but had an absolute beginning about 13.7 billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is so amazing because it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing. For all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into being at the Big Bang. While some cosmologists have tried to craft alternative theories aimed at avoiding this absolute beginning, none of these theories have commended themselves to the scientific community.

In fact, in 2003 cosmologists Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe that is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be eternal in the past but must have had an absolute beginning. According to Vilenkin, “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.” It follows then that there must be a transcendent cause that brought the universe into being, a cause that, as we have seen, is plausibly timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and personal.

Has capitalism collapsed like communism did?

That’s what a Marxist historian is saying. From The London Telegraph:

For those who missed it, I recommend Edward Stourton’s BBC interview with Eric Hobsbawm, the doyen of Marxist history.

“This is the dramatic equivalent of the collapse of the Soviet Union: we now know that an era has ended,” said Mr Hobsbawm, still lucid at 91.

“It is certainly greatest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. As Marx and Schumpeter foresaw, globalization not only destroys heritage, but is incredibly unstable. It operates through a series of crises.

“There’ll be a much greater role for the state, one way or another. We’ve already got the state as lender of last resort, we might well return to idea of the state as employer of last resort, which is what it was under FDR. It’ll be something which orients, and even directs the private economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, called on Barack Obama to implement a policy of perestroika, or restructuring of the economy, just like he did.

Happy Veterans Day

If you can vote, exercise free speech, criticize your government, or practice your faith openly, thank a veteran.

Adoption supply and demand

Some 600,000 women want to adopt a child, with plenty of parents being open to older children and those with special needs. Some 129,000 children in the foster care system need to be adopted. Yet only some 8,000 a year become a part of someone’s family. Why? Needless bureaucratic obstacles. See Jeff Katz – Adoption’s Numbers Mystery – washingtonpost.com. Do any of you have experience with this?

Obama-related satire

Thanks to Bruce and tODD for reminding me of The Onion and for alerting me to these satirical takes on our sainted president-elect:

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Then there is this, headlined Black Man Given America’s Worst Job:

African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation’s broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, “It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can’t catch a break.”

Adler’s proof of the existence of God

In browsing Wikipedia for some quick facts about something else, I came across this summary of Mortimer Adler’s rather more sophisticated version of the cosmological argument for the existence of God:

In his 1981 book “How to Think About God”, Adler attempts to demonstrate God as the exnihilator of the cosmos. The steps taken to demonstrate this are as follows:

1. The existence of an effect requiring the concurrent existence and action of an efficient cause implies the existence and action of that cause
2. The cosmos as a whole exists
3. The existence of the cosmos as a whole is radically contingent (meaning that it needs an efficient cause of its continuing existence to preserve it in being, and prevent it from being annihilated, or reduced to nothing)
4. If the cosmos needs an efficient cause of its continuing existence, then that cause must be a supernatural being, supernatural in its action, and one the existence of which is uncaused, in other words, the Supreme Being, or God

Two of the four premises, the first and the last, appear to be true with certitude. The second is true beyond a reasonable doubt. If the one remaining premise, the third, is also true beyond a reasonable doubt, then we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists and acts to sustain the cosmos in existence.

The reason we can conceive the cosmos as being radically rather than superficially contingent is due to the fact that the cosmos which now exists is only one of many possible universes that might have in fact existed in the past, and might still exist in the future. This is not to say that any cosmos other than this one ever did exist in the past, or ever will exist in the future. It is not necessary to go that far in order to say that other universes might have existed in the past and might exist in the future. If other universes are possible, than this one also is merely possible, not necessary. . . .

The next step in the argument is the crucial one. It consists in saying that whatever might have been otherwise in shape or structure is something that also might not exist at all. That which cannot be otherwise also cannot not exist; and conversely, what necessarily exists can not be otherwise than it is. Therefore, a cosmos which can be otherwise is one that also cannot be; and conversely, a cosmos that is capable of not existing at all is one that can be otherwise than it now is.

Applying this insight to the fact that the existing cosmos is merely one of a plurality of possible universes, we come to the conclusion that the cosmos, radically contingent in existence, would not exist at all were its existence not caused. A merely possible cosmos cannot be an uncaused cosmos. A cosmos that is radically contingent in existence, and needs a cause of that existence, needs a supernatural cause, one that exists and acts to exnihilate this merely possible cosmos, thus preventing the realization of what is always possible for merely a possible cosmos, namely, its absolute non-existence or reduction to nothingness. . . .

Adler stressed that even with this conclusion, God’s existence cannot be proven or demonstrated, but only established as true beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in a recent re-review of the argument, John Cramer concluded that recent developments in cosmology appear to converge with and support Adler’s argument, and that in light of such theories as the multiverse, the argument is no worse for the wear and may, indeed, now be judged somewhat more probable than it was originally.

It’s interesting that the contingency of the universe–that it might be otherwise than what it is–is a key to the argument. Otherwise, one could argue that the universe itself is necessary and self-existing.

San Francisco has its limits

Updating an earlier post about San Francisco voting on whether to legalize prostitution, the city voted “no.” A vicious proposal to rename the city’s sewer treatment plant after George W. Bush was also defeated. See S.F. rejects prostitution, energy measures.

Sign of the times

Todd Peperkorn is a pastor I know, and I have the highest respect for him. His church in Wisconsin is used as a polling place. On election day, he put up this message on the church sign:

Todd Peperkorn's church sign

Election officials made him take down the message. Rev. Peperkorn is a two-kingdoms kind of guy, but he thought a moral witness to an issue not on the ballot was appropriate. Morality, remember, does indeed reply to the Kingdom of the Lefthand. Contrary to popular assumption, morality is not the same as religion, which, for Christians has to do primarily with the Gospel. But the Law does apply to God’s reign in the world and to the civil order. Anyway, here is part of what Rev. Peperkorn said about his sign:

We are given an opportunity to confess the faith in the midst of an unbelieving world. We can do so in a way that is not bitter or vitriolic. But is it moral for a Church to agree to be used for what is a good, left-hand kingdom purpose (polling station) if it then limits the ability of that same church to be a prophetic voice in the world?

I am supportive of our government and its system. I’m not sure about the wisdom of churches as polling stations, because it may limit the ability of the church to be church in the world.

What do you think? Was the city clerk right or wrong? Should churches agree to be polling stations, if they are told they cannot say certain things?

Applying the golden rule to political discourse

Victor Davis Hanson urges that conservatives NOT do to the new liberal regime what the liberals did when the conservatives were in power:

It seems to me that conservatives have a golden opportunity to offer criticism and advice in a manner that many liberals did not during the last eight years. By that I mean I hope there are no conservative versions of the Nicholson Baker Knopf-published ‘novel’ Checkpoint, the creepy documentary by Gerald Range, the attempt to name a sewer plant after an American President, or the celebrity outbursts that we have witnessed with the tired refrain of Hitler/Nazi Bush—that all have cheapened political discourse. When I hear a partisan insider like Paul Begala urging at the 11th hour that we now rally around lame-duck Bush in his last few days, I detect a sense of apprehension that no Democrats would wish conservatives to treat Obama as they did Bush for eight years.

In the future, criticism should be offered in unified pro-American tones, rather than anti-Obama screeds. When disagreements arise, they should be couched in a sense of regret rather than ebullition. There should be no conservative counterparts of Bill Maher, Michael Moore, or Al Franken.

The comedian crisis

Andrew Ian Dodge raises an issue that I have been concerned about. Now that Barack Obama, whom even comedians venerate, has been elected president,what will happen to political comedy?