A friend of mine, who blogs sporadically as Squelchtoad, had a great response to the NYT review of Krauss’s book A Universe from Nothing that I mentioned in the recent neuroscience post. I’m excerpting Squelchtoad’s commentary, but you should hop over and read the brief piece yourself:
But it occurs to me that the Albert riposte to Lawrence Krauss might also work at least for the more naïve versions of that theological argument. What does it mean for God to be a “necessary being”? Well, some old school theologians would have said it meant He was logically necessary. That is, the proposition “God does not exist” is actually logically impossible. But there’s an Albert Problem: Why are there laws of logic? Aren’t they themselves “something rather than nothing?”
If showing that “God exists” is a necessary proposition within a given logic is enough to prove that God actually exists, the logic itself, it seems to me, must actually exist in some sense akin to the way that the laws of quantum physics exist. This brings us back into Albert territory. The logic is a “something” that really exists rather than “nothing.” Why is there that logic rather than nothing?
…At this point the theologian, I think, is forced to throw up his hands and point out that I can’t ask a “why?” question about things like logic and/or metaphysics, the existence of which are a precondition for causation. Fair enough. But then “Why is there something rather than nothing?” suddenly seems a whole lot less coherent a question overall, so long as the logic and metaphysics are taken to be part of the something.
“Uncaused first cause” is starting to sound like a much better answer than “necessary being.” The theologian may just have to accept that he can’t explain why God exists (uncaused), just that He does. Frankly, I think that ought to be enough. That said, it’s also why I don’t find the “Why is there anything?” argument to be convincing argument for theism. I fail to see how answering “Why is there anything at all?” with “(My specific) God is a brute fact” should be any more persuasive than answering it with “the universe and its laws are brute facts.”
I endorse pretty much all of Squelchtoad’s piece (that’s why I couldn’t resist grabbing such a long pull-quote. Whether theist or atheist, everyone has to bite the bullet at a certain point and accept something without proof or cause. We seem to (mostly) have consensus on some of these things (causality, the existence of matter, the existence of other minds) and diverge radically on others.
Acknowledging this fact doesn’t compel us to throw up our hands and let everyone assert whatever First Cause and knock-on effects that suits them. If you assert a brute fact that isn’t meant as a solution to a problem like the origin of matter or the existence of moral law, there’s no way to contradict you, but your assertion is almost too boring to merit response.
People have proposed a number of different First Cause problem, so we can compare them and try and see if some seem better constructed that others or if (fingers crossed) a couple actually pay rent beyond the problem they were constructed to solve.
If none of them seem better than any other, then you may try just naming the thing you don’t know “First Cause.” But if that seems like cowardice disguised as epistemological modesty, then you have to decide if and when it’s better to choose a solution instead of holding your beliefs in abeyance.