Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kalam Defense Showing More Failure

I came across a video a few days ago wherein a William Lane Craig fanboy collected a series of clips into an hour-long video attempting to refute established refutations of WLC's favorite argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  The KCA is a modern re-jiggering of the old first mover argument, really, and all it really does is play with wording in order to mask the special pleading that it does for "God."  The cosmological argument is one that has been refuted absolutely and conclusively and without a shred of hope several hundred years ago, but for people of faith, facts are things meant to be denied.  It is old hat for religious apologists to be miles deep in denial and to brazenly lie about things and deceive the listeners, and Craig has this weapon of being able to coat his lies with a veneer of verbosity that makes him (and pretty much any believer who follows his apologetics) feel as if he's invincible enough to pretty much assert anything without ever having to actually explain himself.

I believe one can review much of William Lane Craig's content and realize that what he is is not a skilled philosopher, logician, or even an intellectual of any stripe.  He's a person who knows how to play around the format of formal debate in order to basically dodge the need ever to have to do anything.  But he can throw enough words into the system to make it sound as if he's made a point and then when there's enough of a word salad out there, he can throw in a bald, baseless assertion, and then say it's true for reasons he's already stated...  never mind that he never actually states them.  But the worst part of his responses to rebuttals is that he never takes on any of them.  He prefaces every response with a blanket insult to say that atheists are intellectual lightweights because they don't believe in talking snakes and global floods.  Of course, he doesn't actually draw anything from those pejoratives, so he narrowly avoids the direct application of an ad hominem.  But being that he has no actual evidence or facts or explanations to offer, it is of the utmost importance for him to belittle the opposition, else his own feigning towards making a point might be exposed for the pitifully thin shadows of thought they are.

Well, Mr. William Lane Craig...  turnabout is fair play, and there is one thing all religious apologists -- whether it is you, or Duane Gish or Zakir Naik or Babu Ranganathan or whoever it may be -- have in common.  And it is something you have demonstrated clearly and indisputably in every appearance I have ever seen you make.  When I say "every" here, I do indeed mean "every" without even a single isolated exception.  That thing happens to be a criminally egregious magnitude of outright intellectual dishonesty.

In the formulation of the cosmological argument, there was basically the initial premise of saying that "Everything that exists has a cause."  Well, when you state it this way, the validity of asking for a "cause of God" becomes quite clearly apparent.  So the Kalam argument changes this to the premise of "Everything that begins to exist has a cause."  This way, he can hide the special pleading incidence by making that pleading pre-emptive.

One of the more basic objections to this first premise is that because he's using it to argue specifically for God as a source for creatio ex nihilo, the phrase "begins to exist" would therefore refer to ex nihilo creation.  The problem is that we have no examples of this at all.  We have examples only of pre-existing material taking on structures which it previously had not had.  Indeed, these sorts of events are the result of some form of causative agencies.  However, we don't have any common examples of something being created from its very inception into existence.  The structural aspect of things taking shape from pre-existing material can indeed be said to come into existence ex nihilo, but structure is not a thing.  It's a descriptive abstraction about things, which of course, depends on the prior existence of the thing itself in that particular state.  Of course, there's the virtual particle argument where we do see things popping into and out of existence without any sort of apparent causality.  In addition to that, one other example of this would be Hawking radiation.  This is the case where pairs of particles and anti-particles are created uncaused -- this happens a lot throughout the universe, and the net energy sum of them is actually zero, but in the vicinity of a black hole, one of the members of the pair can occasionally fall into the event horizon creating a free particle with actual mass which effectively just appeared into existence uncaused.  Of course, no event of this kind is really within our common experience, and Craig offers up the first premise as an assertion supported by "common sense," as if this is ever valid.  The sort of linear extrapolation from common experience is provably inapplicable in countless cases, especially those that deal with extremely high energy states like...  oh...  the apparent beginning of a universe.  Even leaving that aside, it is fallacious to equate creation ex nihilo and restructuring of extant material into new forms.  These are not at all similar events, and he commits a fallacy of equivocation to try and treat the two the same.

How does Craig respond to this?  The same way all Christian apologists respond to criticisms of their foundational principles -- by straw-manning, of course!  Instead of pointing out that people specifically addressed the difference between creatio ex nihilo and creatio ex materia and saying that what has been shown of the latter has not been shown of the former...  he says instead that what atheists argued was to say that "nothing ever began to exist," and proceeds to tear that down.  Indeed, people might have said that nothing began to exist ex nihilo, but by cutting that little modifier, he gets the opportunity to laugh it off.  Textbook straw-manning.

Other people have also mentioned that by extending this premise of causality from things within the universe to the universe itself is a fallacy of composition.  What is true of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole.  Even if we grant the first premise that everything that begins to exist has a cause, treating the universe as a "thing" rather than the set of all things (which can at least be shown to exist) is troubling.  If indeed it is fair to consider the Big Bang the beginning of space and time (more on this later), the idea of cause and effect would not even make sense when applied to the universe.  The reason being that cause and effect is not some intrinsic property of existence, but a result of time.  Causality does not apply in any way when there is no time.  Before and after must already exist for cause and effect to exist.  Meaning that when there is no such thing as time, there is no real concept of causation in the first place.

So what was Craig's argument against this in the aforementioned video?  Well, there isn't one.  He straw-mans once again.  Instead of arguing against the compositional fallacy regarding the need for a cause, he argues as if the accusation of a compositional fallacy is regarding the need for the universe to begin to exist.  He argues that he does not rely on the apparent formation of material things to posit his second premise that the universe began to exist.  This is very true.  The problem is that it doesn't argue against the point.  It pretends that we're talking about the universe beginning to exist, rather than about the universe needing a cause.  I don't think I need to remind you that no one was arguing that, but by pretending that was the point, he gets to validly refute something that no one was putting out there in the first place and sound like he's in the right by doing so.  This isn't exactly a rare thing for him, either.  When I read through Craig's rebuttal to Youtube user TheoreticalBullshit's series on Kalam, I found that WLC didn't merely straw-man one or two points...  he straw-manned every single one of them.  Not one was argued without distorting the statement to mean something else.  It's a clear indication that he has no arguments against the actual point.

Of course, there are points that can be raised about that second premise, but the main one that I would point out is that it's actually an unfounded assertion.  Craig, just for this particular premise, cites Big Bang cosmology as more or less having shown conclusively that the universe had a beginning, and so he claims this premise is basically in line with modern cosmology.  It's quite a shift from Hamid al-Ghazali's original proposition of the Kalam argument back in the 12th century where he tried to support the 2nd premise with an argument against a hypothetical infinite regress.  But WLC goes with a citation of modern scientific knowledge of cosmology to say "we have good reason to believe this is true."  So this premise should be airtight, right?

Not quite;  WLC claims that science supports this premise when it actually does no such thing.  Sure, the explanation-suited-for-laypeople of Big Bang cosmology that you might hear may tell you just that, but that should not be taken as an indication of what is actually in the scientific literature.  The Big Bang Theory does not say anything definitive in this regard.  There's a possibility that it could be the beginning of the universe, but there's also a possibility that it is simply a transformation from a structure in which space, time, and energy are all completely beyond our apprehension to one where they can be comprehended.  It could also just as well be a visual artifact of other events going on at a scale which is also beyond our immediate apprehension.  The very reason why hypotheses like the multiverse or M-theory and so on are even posited in the first place is precisely because of this uncertainty.  Craig, like any other religious apologist is just using this gap in our knowledge to squeeze in a god.  Based on some other examples of Craig's writings, I am of the mind to think that he, unlike a lot of Christian apologists, actually has read some of the literature on the subject, though how well he understands it is a separate question.  This implies, however, that he's not merely ignorant of the model, but simply chooses to disregard any of the inconvenient uncertainties.  After all, his only avenue for a proof of divinity lies in hooking onto the margins of science, so it is of utmost importance for him to keep those margins wide, even if only in his head.  The more generically true statement that can be made about Big Bang cosmology is that it simply posits a certain point back in time where our normal assumptions about time, space, and physics in general basically break down and we can no longer say anything clear about the state and/or nature of the universe prior to a certain point back in time.  That is not at all similar to saying that it is the moment when the universe began to exist.

Of course, this doesn't eliminate the possibility for other deductive arguments built on inductive premises of the same linear form as the Kalam argument.  Instead of premises based on things beginning to exist, you can formulate the argument based on "transformation of state" needing a cause, where the universe can be said to transform from a state in which it is *apparently* non-existent to one which is apparently extant and falls fully within our capacity to comprehend its existence.  Of course, no Christian apologist can actually use this because it's too long-winded and complex and demands too much explanation for the average listener.  One of the main reasons why Craig likes the Kalam argument the way he has it phrased currently is that it is simple enough to put forth without having to explain any of its content.  The more need there is to explain the premises, the more room there is to poke holes in his arguments, and he simply can't allow that.

With that said, though, even if I grant everything else about the Kalam argument, it does not by itself argue for the existence of any deity.  That part lies in a series of ancillary so-called "deductions" that Craig draws from the establishment of causation.  Although the outright failure of his premises on their own terms and his own complete and utter inability and unwillingness to honestly counter any of the arguments against them, resorting instead to distortions, quote mines, redefining words, and fallacious rhetoric which ultimately do not address any of the actual flaws pointed out pretty strongly invalidates Craig's argument from the outset, it is in his further extrapolations towards identification of that purported cause that the nonsense truly flies out en masse.

I shall deal with those in a second part, because this entry is already far too long.


  1. "The cosmological argument is one that has been refuted absolutely and conclusively and without a shred of hope several hundred years ago..."

    Can you provide a source for this claim?

  2. The common counter-arguments that most people are familiar with (excluding those that rely on more modern knowledge of physics) are those from Hume and Kant, both of which go back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

    The oldest versions that I'm aware of for the cosmological argument come from Plato & Aristotle, but both of them included a series of caveats where they fail. Aristotle also argued against the cause being personal.

    In Hindu philosophy, there is a cosmological argument (though we don't know the original author for that one) which also argued why the first cause had to be personal as well as female. There's an argument against this written by someone else unnamed (we know of the existence of this argument through Buddha, but he makes it sound as it came from earlier writings). While that counterargument argues FOR solipsism, the main value of it is that it addresses a number of gaps in considered possibilities and understanding of reality also briefly mentions the composition fallacy as well.