Saturday, August 6, 2016

My Favorite Apologetic Arguments

The following two arguments are currently my favorite apologetic arguments for the truth of theism, and by way of subsequent inference to the best explanation, Christianity. I have written about them many times, and enjoy both discussion and answering questions about them. I am going to discuss them both briefly and leave it for your consideration.
The first argument is the kalam cosmological argument (KCA). Cosmological arguments for God’s existence reason from the contingent facts of the universe to a transcendent cause of the universe. The kalam is a particular formulation of this idea. Thus, there is no one singular cosmological argument, only a family of arguments that share the basic foundation in common. There are two versions of the KCA that have been presented by its most prominent defender, William Lane Craig. I will give what I call Craig’s classical presentation, then his current presentation, and then discuss them both. Here is the classical presentation of the KCA:
1.      Whatever begins to exist had a cause.
2.      The universe began to exist.
3.      Therefore, the universe had a cause.
And here is the current presentation:
1*. If the universe began to exist, then the universe had a transcendent cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3*. Therefore, the universe had a transcendent cause.
The first thing to notice is that (2) appears in both arguments. This is a great premise because it enjoys both philosophical and scientific support. On the philosophical side, of the several arguments given, I like the argument against traversing an actually infinite amount of time. It doesn’t appear possible. Think about it this way: if you pick an infinitely distant “starting point” (any arbitrary point will do) in the past, an infinite number of moments would have to pass for you to arrive at the present moment. But before the present moment could arrive, the moment prior would have to arrive; and before that moment, the one prior to it would have to arrive, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. But then the present moment could not arrive, since the infinite series could never be traversed! It’s like encountering a man who claims he has just finished counting all the negative numbers from infinity down to zero; it doesn’t make any sense!
Further, there are scientific reasons to think the universe began to exist. In pop culture, even today, it is not uncommon to hear things like, “The universe is eternal and infinite.” But this is just scientifically outdated (by about a hundred years!). Scientists have discovered the universe is expanding. Extrapolating the rate of expansion backward into the past, they have postulated there is a point in the past where all matter is condensed into a single miniscule point. They further postulate that this point “burst” to spread out and form the universe over a long period of time. They call this the Big Bang Theory, and it implies a beginning to space. Regardless of what one thinks of this theory, you cannot have both the old model of endless, eternal space and the Big Bang. You must have one or the other, or neither. The point is just that current scientific models suggest one cannot avoid an absolute beginning to the universe.
(1)   is good, in that it is both intuitive and constantly confirmed by our experience. Some people have thought that a counterexample to (1) would be quantum events. However, this is confused. (1) does not say, “whatever event transpires has a cause,” but whatever begins to exist had a cause. The difference means that in order for quantum events to be a counterexample, the virtual particles would have to come from nothing. But they do not come from nothing; they come from a sea of energy.
However, Craig reformulated (1) into (1*) perhaps in part to avoid this whole confusion in the first place. (1*) seems eminently plausible; the alternative is to think that the universe both came into existence and had no cause whatsoever, which seems very, very counterintuitive, to say the least! But then it follows that the universe had a transcendent cause. This transcendent cause, then, must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, extremely powerful, personal, beginningless, changeless, and uncaused! That sure sounds a lot like God—specifically, the God of the Abrahamic tradition.
Now here is the version of the moral argument that I prefer:
1.      If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2.      Evil exists.
3.      Therefore, objective moral values and duties do exist.
4.      Therefore, God exists.
I prefer the extra step (3) provides for reasons I shall explain in a moment. (1), I think, should be placed in probabilistic terms: probably, God is the best explanation for objective morality. Think about it this way: in the absence of God, why should we be good? To whom do we owe that obligation? It cannot be merely other humans, for humans did not always exist, and there could be other sentient moral agents that exist or could possibly have existed, and presumably morality could apply to them. So, without such a ground, it looks like moral obligations wouldn’t be around at all.
Now, as it turns out, all you need at this point is for someone to agree that objective moral values and duties do exist. However, some people resist this point initially. It is here I like to remind the objector of what his favorite (likely) argument against God is: the problem of evil. The problem of evil works only in cases where, in fact, there is evil. Beheading people for the faith, calculated genocide as ethnic cleansing, imprisonment for thought crimes—these people take to be evil deeds, not just deeds we happen not to like. You can provide myriad examples, and usually people grant that at least some things are objectively evil. If they do not, however, do not lose heart: you have shown a cost—a very, very great cost—of accepting their view: you must stand firm in the counterintuition that nothing is really wrong, deep down: it’s all preference.
In any case, once one accept (2), it entails (3), and (1) and (3) entail (4), that God exists. Now this God is plausibly a necessary being, since it looks like moral truths are necessary, and God grounds these.

So take these two arguments alone and combine their conclusions: there exists a being who is plausibly necessary, transcends the universe, brought it into existence, grounds objective morality, is omnibenevolent, beginningless, changeless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial, enormously powerful, and personal. For a variety of reasons, I think this is best represented by the Christian God. What do you think?


  1. Great article, however, as I am sure you know, this only demonstrates, if successful sort of general theism. Moving from general theism to Christian theism would require more work. At any rate, great intro to a strong Christian apologetic.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Yes, a general theism that I think lends itself well to Christianity. I am partial to a kind of ramified natural theology, and also Resurrection arguments, but I really only allude to them. I just wanted to discuss these arguments for now. Building the case for Christian theism on the backs of these arguments collected together is a fun approach!

    2. I understand. Do you ever use transcendental arguments as part of your apologetic arsenal? I have personally found them to be very powerful arguments, especially when talking with atheists. If you think about it, transcendental arguments, if successful would undercut any objection against the Christian position since all argumentation presupposes logic, and therefore God (at least this is what the transcendental argument seeks to accomplish). At any rate, keep up the good work sir. Many Blessings!!!

    3. Hey man! Technically I do use them (the moral argument I referenced above counts as one, as God is the necessary precondition of morality). However, I tend not to use transcendental arguments, mostly because practitioners tend to confuse epistemology and ontology, and often make their presentations in a question-begging way. Of course, this is no fault of the argument. And I am very sympathetic to the truth of these transcendental arguments! :) So I like them, but do not use them often.

  2. These are my two favorite as well! :D

    1. That's awesome! I've found the moral argument at least resonates with people's basic intuitions, if nothing else!

  3. They are very weak arguments. The KCA is refuted, among other things, by the B-theory of time; you've just assumed the A-theory is true, as all proponents of this argument do. And the moral argument is refuted by the Euthyphro dilemma and the pluralism argument, among other things. So neither argument works to achieve its conclusion.

    1. I'm afraid you're revealing your ignorance of the relevant academic literature. It's OK to reject the arguments, but to claim they're all "weak" and then provide weak objections that have already been answered elsewhere isn't going to convince me. For some relevant examples: I haven't "assumed" the A-theory is true; it didn't even come up here. But more relevantly, all you have to do is on the most popular conception of a B-theory, just reformulate the premise to ask about the front edge of the universe. It's still a kalam-style argument that establishes the existence of a First Cause, etc.

      Second, the moral argument isn't refuted by the Euthyphro dilemma; that one's had an answer for centuries (e.g., God is neither "under" the law nor "above" it; but the moral law inheres in his nature--abstractly, that collection of properties of goodness, and thus evil is what is opposed to or absent from, in a sense, God). I hope this helps!

    2. I can understand why you feel that I am ignorant of the academic literature, but it's because I am familiar with the academic literature that I think the arguments are weak. Before I was I thought they were stronger. Few in the academic world are convinced of these arguments.

      One thing you have to note is that the KCA itself assumes the A theory of time, and by making the argument, one is assuming the A theory of time. The KCA is not made on a neutral position on time. On the B theory the KCA cannot hold because the universe doesn't begin to exist (which the KCA explicitly claims), and the popular notion of causality that you require for a first cause doesn't exist. I can even restate a version of the KCA as such:

      1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
      2. The universe didn't begin to exist
      3. Therefore, the universe doesn't have a cause

      The Euthyphro dilemma is not refuted, but it is actually a trilemma, not really a dilemma. It makes it so that you cannot avoid hitting one of these 3 options: (1) morality is arbitrarily decided by god, (2) make a circular argument, (3) morality exists independently of god. What is goodness, and how do you determine it? Can you do this while avoiding all 3 above?

    3. Thanks for the reply! Here's a few issues that are plaguing this: First, it doesn't follow that because someone doesn't accept an argument, it is weak. Most professional philosophers will tell you this. Next, kalam-style arguments are argument families, and the universe's front-edge can be caused (this is a strange assertion otherwise). Third, your "anti" version of the kalam is just logically invalid (in syllogistic logic). This is not the case with the KCA itself. Next, this just isn't Euthyphro's dilemma, and this is demonstrable. What you're referring to is some kind of contemporary adaptation, and not one typically appearing in academic literature (I am willing to be corrected on this, if several journal articles or peer-reviewed anthologies from respected publishers are present. Monographs are less convincing, with some exceptions--say Oxford Press and the like). When one responds to the Euthyphro, one isn't "making an argument." One is simply providing a third option: morality inheres in God's nature. It's really not controversial, nor arbitrary, that if some x is x then it is x. It's difficult to see why that would refute the moral argument.

    4. Thank you too for your reply. To hopefully clarify a few things, I'm certainly not saying an argument is weak because I or others don't accept it. The weakness of an argument is solely based on its validity or the truth of its premises. On the B-theory of time, nothing technically has a cause, nothing in the universe, and neither the universe as a whole. Now what I mean by this is that on the B-theory what causality really is is the relationships of intersecting worldtubes as they precede or intertwine with one another in spacetime; they're a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions. At the fundamental level, the word "cause" really should be replaced by the word "explanation" or "relationship." The A-theory notion of something must cause a thing to physically exist is wrong, and you're still assuming that here. I'm not sure how versed your are in science, but there is abundant literature on this.

      There is nothing wrong the the anti- KCM argument I mentioned as far as I can tell. I'd love it if you fleshed out your criticism more. Are you saying it isn't logically valid?

      On the Euthyphro's dilemma, the trilemma is used to show that the third option you try and offer doesn't work because you cannot logically ground it without making a circular argument that lacks intelligibility. For example, is God loving because being loving is good or is being loving good because God is loving? I don't see how you can answer this without circular logic that lacks intelligibility. It seems to me, all you have is an illogical assertion. There has been academic work on this. See Jeremy Koons' paper on the Euthyphro:

      I look forward to any responses you have. Have a great day!

    5. I hope you have a great day also! :) I think the analysis of weak arguments is probably not correct. Couldn't someone construct an argument that is both valid and has true premises, but nonetheless is a bad or weak argument? "Either God exists or the moon is made of green cheese; the moon is not made of green cheese; therefore, God exists." The premises are true and the form is logically valid, but this is a terrible argument (we can just change one of the disjuncts to "God does not exist" for atheists, and the atheist should agree this argument is just as bad).

      As to the B-theory, this is really a misnomer (as is A-theory; most people, myself included, are guilty of this reference), as these are A and B theories, plural. The key in an A and B theories are whether temporal becoming is real. Thus, while your explanation is an example of *a* B-theory, it is not an example inimical to *all B-theories simpliciter*. Most philosophers of time will, pace Hume, affirm causality, even if denying temporal becoming.

      I am saying that the anti-KCA argument is logically invalid. The formulation you have used mirrors the original Craig formulation in its major premise, which is a categorical syllogism. On categorical syllogisms, they are of the (relevantly valid) form:

      1. All X is Y.
      2. a is X.
      3. a is Y.

      or, negatively (but still valid):
      1. All X is Y.
      4. a is not Y.
      5. a is not X.

      The anti-KCA is of the form:

      1. All X is Y.
      6. a is not X.
      7. a is not Y.

      This is invalid. An argument is invalid just in case its premises do not logically necessitate the conclusion. To put it less abstractly, consider the following:

      A. All men are mortal.
      B. Jane is not a man.
      C. Therefore, Jane is not mortal.

      This is invalid, because (C) is not logically guaranteed to follow from (A-B). Lest any concerns over the intent (originally, it meant "humankind"), substitute an alien. An alien maybe could be immortal, but they could be mortal as well. Thus, the invalidity. And the same follows for the argument above.

      God is loving because this is definitional. That's not circular, as we're not trying to provide an *explanatory account* that relies on anything outside of God's necessity. Remember, the dialectic is that somehow God doesn't account for morality or it's not objective, but we have answered that. The reply is that "it's circular," but there's nothing circular about God's necessary nature being what it is--there's no further analysis of "necessity" beyond its being the case in all possible scenarios (even if we eschew possible worlds talk). There's nothing from this that means goodness can't inhere in God's nature or that such talk is meaningless. And that burden falls to the objector. What I claimed was that this doesn't appear typically in academic literature, and one or two articles are consistent with this claim.

    6. I don't think that argument is valid, it certainly isn't sound. The first premise is of course wrong, and so its conclusion would be based on a false premise. So it doesn't meet the criteria of a good argument: true premises and valid logic.

      For the B-theory, there are no models of the B-theory where temporal becoming is real. Those only exist in A-theories (presentism, possibilism). If a philosopher affirms causality on a B-theory, they will most likely define causality as I did, which is a completely different notion than would exist on an A-theory, and isn't "really" causality as it's typically understood. It's just a pattern in spacetime.

      For the anti-KCA, how about this version:

      1. Everything that doesn't begin to exist has no cause
      2. The universe didn't begin to exist
      3. Therefore, the universe doesn't have a cause

      Logically valid?

      For the morality dialogue, claiming it is "definitional" doesn't get you out of the problem as far as I can see. You're just defining god as loving and all you have is circular logic to ground that. If you grant circular logic in principle, then the atheist can use it too to ground his ethical logic. In order to claim a god is necessarily good, you need an external standard of good to compare it to, otherwise you will necessarily end up grounding this claim in circular logic (e.g. god is good because he's loving, loving is good because god is loving.) For example, if I asked you why is being loving good, what would your answer be?

      I'm simply saying that the moral argument doesn't convince the vast majority of philosophers (or atheists) because we have really good reasons why its logic is flawed and for rejecting it on so many levels.

      Anyway, thanks again for this interesting dialogue!

    7. I think you might be missing the point on the weakness criterion (I assume this is what you were responding to); after all, I was willing to substitute "God does not exist," and a disjunction is true just in case at least one of its disjuncts are true, so any atheist should agree both: a) that the argument is valid and sound, and b) that it's a weak argument. Substitute any position you hold that's even remotely controversial for the first disjunction, and you have the same scenario.

      Yes, that B-theories don't affirm temporal becoming is my point: but people discuss causality independently of which theory is true, and have for quite some time (pun intended)! Most philosophers aren't taking causality from A/B theory; indeed, there is no universally accepted *account* of causality in philosophy, even if we have the basic idea of "bringing about," and this is the relevant notion at work in the kalam.

      Now it's logically valid, but (1) is far less plausible than the kalam, and if (2) depends on the B-theory, again, B-theorists accept that there is causality (see the majority of philosophers of time, who are B-theorists but who don't deny causality as "bringing about;" also see philosophers of mind who discuss the "pairing problem," such that something is causally paired with some other thing based on spatiotemporal location and other physical properties.).

      It's not circular; it's tautological. I'm not arguing that God is good because he's loving. That's something you've imputed to me. I'm arguing God is good because his nature is identical to the good. This is not circular. In answer to your question, it's because that is what it is to be loving! Remember the dialectic: the moral argument, the euthyphro, the grounded-in-nature response, the "circular" reply, the explanation of goodness-as-primitive concept, the reply that "the claim is grounded in circular logic."

      This "grounding" is either ontological or epistemological. If ontological, as the Euthyphro plausibly requires, there's no problem: God's nature is the ontology, and there's nothing implausible or inherently impossible (as of yet in the dialectic, anyway) about it. If epistemological, it doesn't go to the Euthyphro ("tell us how it is that God's nature is the good!"); suppose I don't know how it is--what does this tell us? Nothing, really.


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