Saturday, April 20, 2013

William Lane Craig versus Rosenberg (part 2)

My series on the February 2013 debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg:
  1. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
  2. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life
  3. Intentional States of Consciousness in the World
  4. Objective Moral Values and Duties in the World
  5. The Historical Facts about Jesus of Nazareth
  6. God can be Personally Known and Experienced
  7. Arguments Against Naturalism
  8. The Argument from Evil
  9. Wrap-Up
Introduction

In part 1 of the series I showed the Leibnizian cosmological argument William Lane Craig, how Rosenberg responded, and how Rosenberg should have responded. In this entry of the series I’ll over the kalam cosmological argument in the debate.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) Craig gave in the debate went as follows:

  1. The universe began to exist.
  2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause.
What Rosenberg did

In the debate (42:22) he notes that

there are 2,000 members of the National Academy of Sciences. The most important body of the most distinguished scientists in the United States of which four are faculty here at Purdue and two...the two Nobel Prize winners in chemistry of course are both members of the National Academy of Science. Of these 2,000 people, 95% of them are atheists. And the percentage for the physicists is even higher. What do these people know about physics that Dr. Craig doesn’t know? Is it a coincidence that this number of the members of the National Academy of Science are unbelievers? I think it isn't, and I think it requires us to take with a certain lack of confidence, the claims that Dr. Craig makes about science.

Unfortunately what the survey really shows is these scientists disagree with Craig on a philosophical claim (whether atheism is true), and it doesn’t say what scientific claim, if any, these scientists think Craig is mistaken about.

Yes, Craig uses science in his arguments, but the survey doesn’t tell us whether the atheist scientists disagree with the scientific or the philosophical aspects of the arguments, and it’s quite possible for scientists to agree with the scientific claims but disagree about the theological implications of said science. For example, one of Craig’s arguments in this debate is arguing for theism from the applicability of mathematics to the physical world. No sane physicist would disagree with Craig about the scientific claim here (i.e. the applicability of mathematics to the physical world; mathematics clearly is applicable in physics) even if they would disagree with the theological implications of the mathematical order present in physical reality.

Or to use an example more applicable to the KCA, in pages 176-177 of Many Worlds in One Alexander Vilenkin stated quite emphatically the scientific case for the beginning of the universe is strong (in which case he would agree with Craig’s scientific claim that the universe has a beginning), but nonetheless says that this beginning being a proof of God’s existence is “far too simplistic” and gives further comments that suggest he would disagree with Craig about the theological implications of the universe beginning to exist.

So merely pointing out that a bunch of scientists are atheists wouldn’t quite refute the scientific claims Craig made here. If however Rosenberg said something like this (and there were statistics to back this up):

The most important body of the most distinguished scientists in the United States is the National Academy of Science, of which there are over 2,000 members. Over 95% of the physicists there believe that there is insufficient scientific evidence for a beginning of the universe.

The big difference here is that we have scientists in a relevant field disagreeing with Craig about a scientific matter (whether the scientific evidence favors a beginning of the universe) rather than merely a philosophical one (whether God exists). This would be a great rebuttal to Craig’s KCA, but unfortunately he didn’t make it (though to be fair to Rosenberg, perhaps such statistics weren’t available).

Now Rosenberg does try to controvert Craig’s KCA premise 2 with the uranium-238 atom thing, but as I explained earlier, this just doesn’t work. One should also note that the “anything that begins to exist” claim includes material causes as well as efficient causes. (The material cause is the stuff from which something is made out of and the efficient cause is the one that produces an effect; e.g. when Michelangelo created the marble statue David, Michelangelo is the efficient cause and the marble is the material cause). Since the alpha particle is stuff from the uranium-238 atom, the alpha particle clearly has a material cause even if it could be said to have no efficient cause (though by my lights there is an efficient cause, albeit an indeterministic one). There may be no cause for the different results of the two physically identical uranium-238 atoms, where one emits an alpha particle and the other doesn’t, but the alpha particle itself still has a cause. From around 45:11:

For Dr. Craig to insist on the arguments that rest on the claim that every event had a cause, that had to have brought it into being, is just bluff.

Craig however has made it clear in his writings and his talks that this is precisely what the first premise of the KCA does not claim. A brief Google search of the Reasonable Faith website (William Lane Craig’s main Christian apologetics website) for “every event has cause” reveals William Lane Craig saying things like, “Notice that I might add that this premise doesn’t say that every event has a cause and Craig clearing up someone else’s apparent confusion that the first premise of the KCA commits us to believing that every event has a cause. Indeed, both of these pages were the top two results of the Google search I did. Rosenberg should have researched better than he did.

What Rosenberg should have done

Craig claims that the scientific evidence favors his view that the universe had a beginning, but as I mentioned in my rebutttal of the kalam cosmological argument, the notion that the universe began to exist is something that scientists dispute, and I noted that physicist Sean Carrol believes the universe probably did not have a beginning. Disputing the scientific grounds of Craig’s claim was one way Rosenberg could have gone.

Suppose though we grant for sake of argument that according to the sort of physics we are familiar with, the universe has a finite past. If we all knew this to be true, I would then agree with Craig that the cause of the universe would have to be something that works at least somewhat differently than the laws of physics we are familiar with. But then why does it have to be a magical deity? Why couldn’t it be some other sort of physical reality, especially when positing another sort of physical thing as the cause is far less extravagant than a magical deity? There is simply no good reason to favor a “transcendent, personal cause” (i.e. a supernatural deity that uses magic to create the universe) over a physical reality that operates according to natural physical laws, even if as a timeless physical reality the physics it uses is somewhat different from what we humans in time have experience with.