In a facebook conversation, Matthew Bell claimed that “the evidence for the existence of God has been made so clear that any who do not believe in it are without excuse before him and are in denial of the evidence.” He then pointed me to a lecture by William Lane Craig (WLC), where this evidence is laid out. Let’s look at this supposedly clear evidence.
WLC starts by looking at 7 things that point to something more than naturalism. I interject a few criticisms, but many more can be found online. My main point is stated at the bottom of this post.
1. “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
“Everything that exists has an explanation, either in the necessity of its own being, or in a cause.” He claims that this point is plausible, at least more than its contradiction, and then proceeds to give a straightforward, everyday-sort of analogy. I think we have learned in the last 100 years that these analogies are completely useless once you move a little bit away from everyday experience – really big, really small, really fast, really old, etc…
He continues with “Some things exist necessarily (say, numbers) without any cause. All other things have an external cause (say, mountains, planets, etc…).” He then says that it seems plausible that the explanation of the universe is an external cause. Why? No reason is given. He then goes on to state that that cause must be transcendent and personal. The cause must be greater than the uiniverse, and thus cannot be physical or material. Only two kinds of things are non-physical: an abstract object and an intelligent mind (i.e. an unbodied consciousness). Why only these two? No attempt to expand this list is given. Can you claim that the mind could even exist without material? No support for is given. These are simply asserted.
2. Origin of the universe. Does the universe have a beginning? Here he uses his standard rant against the actual infinite (transfinite arithmetic), then introduces the Big Bang evidence, and then the Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin theorem. A nice treatment of this can be found here, but there are many others online.
An appeal is made to the “out of nothing, nothing comes” as very successful in science – again, ignoring the uncaused events in quantum physics, to which Vilinkin himself references in his original paper.
He continues with, “the cause must be changeless, timeless, spaceless, and personal”. Again, he says that it is “plausibly” personal. “How else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like a beginning?” A theme is happening – at each stage of his argument he is appealing to our ordinary sense of things, our incredulity, and our lack of any curiousity.
3. Fine tuning argument. His only response to the physical necessity of these constants being what they are is “the physical necessity of the constants being fine tuned is implausible because ‘these constants are independent in the theory'”. This is entirely unconvicing, given that the theory is known to be incomplete! True, right now, the constants are indendent but that is simply because they are not derived in any way from a more fundamental understanding.
4. Argument from objective moral values and duties. I think Sam Harris’ arguments for objective morality, based on science, are more convincing than Craig’s here.
5. Argument from the “greatest possible conceivable being”. This argument is essentially “If I can imagine it, it must exist” (yes, I know that’s an oversimplification) He claims that this entire argument, except the first point “God could possible exist”, is uncontentious. He then says that the atheist must demonstrate that the concept of God is incoherent (like a married bachelor) to demonstrate that God could not possibly exist. He then argues from incredulity (again) – “what do you think?” “It seems to me that an all-good, all powerful being is coherent.”, etc… I can’t imagine anyone is ever convinced by such wordplay.
6. Historical details of Jesus. WLC claims that most historials agree with the following three historical points:
a) empty tomb
b) postmortem appearances
c) transformation of the desciples (i.e they were willing to die for them.)
My first response, as I was listening to this was, whoa! We just jumped about 13 billion years! Up to this point we were talking about the origins of matter and the universe, and now we jump to a mere 2000 years ago. I really like the response by Robert M Price here, where he deals quite well with the development of legendary material.
7. Personal experience of God. WLC admits this isn’t evidence.
It is not my point to criticize WLC arguments for their content. I’ve sketched some criticisms here, as they appear to me, but my main contention is that this evidence is not clear evidence for God. Matthew Bell claimed that “the evidence for the existence of God has been made so clear that any who do not believe in it are without excuse before him and are in denial of the evidence.”, and yet this evidence is not at all clear. It relates either to the edge of our understanding on cosmology, 2000 year old texts written decades after the events by people who do not claim to be eyewitnesses, or “feel-good” feelings when you do something nice for someone or pray. In each case the evidence is either at our ignorance or our subjectivity, and not clear.
So, what would I want? For example, before Darwin, there was clear evidence for design. Any person could easily see it with their eyes, it was demonstrable in, literally, millions of ways. Watching a beaver build a dam, or a parsitic wasp infect a caterpillar, the match of function and form was truly obvious. Of course, once Darwin demonstrated that this could be explained without a designer, it ceased to be evidence for a designer – but it was clear evidence at the time. So-called faith-healings would also provide clear evidence, if they could be repeated and not easily explained with human psychology and the science of placebo, etc… It would be evidence that anyone could approach and deal with, and would point beyond the natural world (perhaps). However, this evidence seems to retreat under the slightest skeptical scrutiny.
How about evidence for something else, perhaps not an everyday phenomenon? What about the Big Bang? Is there clear evidence for it? Yes! Of course, it’s a little more work to see it, but I can get middle-school students to be able to do the math, measuring red-shifts, and calculate the age of the universe – from real data! This is clear evidence – the very thing that is lacking when we are talking about the supposed creator of the universe who supposedly still acts in the world.