"Is the material world all there is?"
This was the question posed by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig at the start of his lecture yesterday at Imperial College, London. The title of the talk was "The evidence for God", and it was part of his "Reasonable Faith" tour of the UK. Here's a video of the talk:
Below is an outline of Craig's talk, mostly taken verbatim from his words or his overhead slides. After each point, I give a brief analysis, along with what I think I might have liked to have heard as an alternative. His stated aim was to provide arguments that point away from naturalism and towards belief in God.
1. Why anything at all exists
- Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
- The universe exists.
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is an external, transcendent, personal cause.
- Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal cause.
Analysis. The implicit premise (that the universe does not have necessary existence) would not be true if the universe is the "brute fact" of reality, on which everything else depends, and which has and needs no explanation. This argument therefore offers no challenge to the true die-hard naturalist.
Alternative. Many would-be die-hard naturalists do not realise that their view of reality is coherent only if the existence of the universe is a "brute fact", with no explanation. This is worth making clear: just as God is a "brute fact" in the Christian view of things, so is the universe a "brute fact" in the naturalistic view of things. Not everything the naturalist believes can be justified through evidence and reason.
2. The origin of the universe
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Analysis. Premise 2 would not be true if the universe is the "brute fact" of reality. If the universe is the non-dependent reality on which everything else depends, then it did not begin to exist. And it makes no sense to use the laws of logic to argue against this, as Craig did for premise 2, because the laws of logic would themselves be dependent on the physical universe for their existence (it is impossible to have more than one "brute fact" of reality).
Alternative. It is worth pointing out that if the universe is the "brute fact" of reality, then what we think of as the laws of logic must have emerged from the physical properties of the universe. So when we think of the impossibility of the existence of actual infinities (one of Craig's arguments on premise 2), that must be showing us the limitations of logical laws in a purely physical universe.
3. The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life
- The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
- It is not due to necessity or chance.
- Therefore, it is due to design.
Analysis. Craig did not present water-tight arguments for premise 2, so if I believed that the universe was the "brute fact" of reality, I would not agree with it.
Alternative. It is worth pointing out, as Craig does, that a coherent belief in naturalism will point strongly towards either a theory of everything (which has not been discovered) or towards a multiverse (which has not been observed). The goal of all of this would be to show naturalists where their beliefs take them, and hopefully to make them feel a bit uncomfortable with this, and to show how Christian theism is perhaps more affirming of our everyday experiences of reality.
4. Objective moral values and duties in the world
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- Therefore God exists.
Analysis. Once again, the die-hard naturalist would disagree with premise 2.
Alternative. It is worth pointing out that a coherent die-hard naturalist view would be at odds with what we naïvely think to be the case (here, that objective moral values exist), and that Christian theism would be a more comfortable basis for our naïve beliefs about morality. (This does not mean that Christian theism is therefore true!)
5. The possibility of God's existence
- It is possible that a maximally great being (we call "God") exists.
- If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
- If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
- If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
- Therefore, a maximally great being exists in the actual world.
- Therefore, a maximally great being exists.
- Therefore, God exists.
Analysis. This is quite heavy stuff, but it boils down to this: God exists if the concept of logical possibility exists, and if the properties that make God great also exist. But this leaves us with one of two possibilities. Either God is dependent on logical possibility (and plenty of other things) for his existence, in which case God is not God, or God created logical possibility (and plenty of other things), in which case the argument is that God exists if God exists!
Alternative. I think I'd leave this one out.
6. The historical facts concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
- There are three established facts concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth: the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of his disciples' belief in his resurrection.
- The hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead" is the best explanation of these facts.
- The hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead" entails that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.
- Therefore the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.
Analysis. I think the die-hard naturalist would want premise 2 to read "is arguably the best known explanation". With those changes, the argument doesn't follow.
Alternative. It is worth pointing out to the naturalist that as they approach the supposed evidence for the resurrection, they are not doing so as open-minded enquirers. Rather, their beliefs in naturalism demand that the explanation for the evidence must be a naturalistic explanation. As above, the aim is to show what a coherent naturalistic view of reality looks like, and to show (hopefully) that a Christian view of reality seems to fit more closely with our naïve interpretations of the evidence around us.
7. The immediate, personal experience of God
- Beliefs which are appropriately grounded may be rationally accepted as basic beliefs not grounded on argument.
- Belief that the biblical God exists is appropriately grounded.
- Therefore, belief that the biblical God exists may be rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded on argument.
Analysis. Before presenting this syllogism, Craig said something like this: "You can know that God exists apart from arguments, simply by experiencing him." I would agree with that.
Overall analysis. There is a lot of excellent material in Craig's presentation. But by presenting his case as a series of logical inferences based on premises that are not self-evident (especially for the naturalist!), I think he overstates his case. Craig does not present a logical argument for God (a cursory reading of the outline above would suggest that he does). Rather, he shows how a consistent and coherent belief in naturalism is at odds with a lot of things that we might naïvely believe (such as the existence of objective moral values), and that Christian theism can lend support to those beliefs. I think this approach is more compelling, and that is why my favourite chapter of Craig's "Reasonable Faith" is the chapter on "The absurdity of life without God", in which he takes this approach. This style of presentation would lead more naturally to Craig's final point, which is basically an invitation for his hearers to investigate further, and to ask God (if he is there) to reveal himself to their hearts.