Not necessarily necessary

Often, when I’m bored, I’ll watch a good theist vs. atheist debate. Tonight, I was watching a debate between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss about (unsurprisingly) whether or not there’s evidence for God.

Craig’s first “evidence” for God is the existence of contingent beings. Necessary beings are anything which exist as a necessity of their nature (i.e., it would be impossible for them not to exist), while a contingent being’s nature is such that any particular contingent being might exist or not exist at any given point in time. He gives mountains, planets, and galaxies as types of contingent “being,” so … that’s a weird use of the term ‘being.’ But that’s beside the point.

Craig goes on to argue that certain things, such as abstract concepts or numbers, are necessary beings – that they necessarily exist, regardless of the existence of something to explain their origin.

He says that “experience teaches that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence – either in its own nature, if it exists necessarily, or in an external cause if it exists contingently.”

He continues: “since the universe [by which he means all of reality] is contingent in its existence, the explanation of the universe must be found in an external cause, which exists beyond time and space by necessity of its own nature. Now, what could that be? Well, there are only two kinds of thing that could fit that description: either abstract objects, like numbers, or God.”

At this point, I’m thinking, “wait just a damn minute.” He’s just pushed forward several unstated (or asserted) major premises:

  1. That reality is contingent – that is, that it’s possible for reality to be nonexistent
  2. That it’s possible for things to “exist” outside of time and space, and not be purely conceptual
  3. That a being we call God actually exists, and that this being has properties which we can objectively know about before performing any investigation (begging the question much?)

Premise #1 is simply asserted. Craig plays fast and loose with equivocation between ‘reality’ and ‘the universe’, first expecting us to use ‘universe’ to describe ‘all that exists and the underlying foundation of reality’ and later expecting us to accept it in place of ‘the physical universe in which we live.’ It’s not possible to demonstrate that reality is contingent, but he makes this assumption because without it his argument utterly falls apart.

Premise #2 isn’t stated, but the fact that he thinks the physical universe could be caused by something “outside” time and space makes this necessary. Never mind that we have no experience or even concept of cause and effect functioning without the existence of time; never mind that he’s already said that “the universe” equals “all of reality” – suddenly we’ve got a causal chain that begins within reality, but not “within” time and space. I assume he believes God is within reality because… well… anything not within reality is, by definition, not real.

Premise #3 I infer from the fact that he’s claiming God is necessary. For God to be either necessary or contingent, God must first exist. Thus, Craig is assuming that such a being actually exists, and that it’s a necessary being. This is a flat assertion with no demonstration.

This last bit is an all-too-common tactic used by apologists: they try to define God into existence! They craft a definition of a god with all the right attributes to fit the reality we see, then simply assert that this god must exist. In this case, it’s even simpler: Craig asserts that God is the sort of thing that is a necessary being but not an abstract concept; the only such being, in fact. Through this lovely bit of special pleading, he skips over the whole nasty deal of showing that such a being could exist and simply says it does exist.

But let’s go back to that second premise for a second: that something outside of time and space, but within reality, is the cause of the physical/temporal universe in which we live.

Dr. Craig said that we have experience that shows that all contingent things ultimately require a necessary (non-contingent) explanation. We do not have experience of how universes begin to exist, yet he’s still insisting that he knows what sort of thing would be required, and – wouldn’t you know it! – his specific concept of god happens to fit the bill.

But we don’t even need to argue this. For the sake of argument, I’ll even grant that he could be right: that whatever caused the universe to exist, it might have to exist outside of space and time and somehow work within cause and effect even without the possibility of one event following another. The problem here is that all he’s gotten us so far is a cause that exists within reality. His god is just one of many possibilities. It could be an unconscious force that permeates all of reality but doesn’t act within a universe. It could be pure chaos. But whatever it is, it must first exist within reality – and therefore, it is contingent upon reality.

It is possible to conceive of a reality where no gods exist – thus, they are not necessary beings. The only way to argue against this is to presuppose the existence of a god or gods, then say we can’t imagine what a reality without gods would be like because we can’t experience such a thing.

No matter which way he turns, Dr. Craig must either presuppose God’s existence, thus making his argument entirely circular, or assert that God is necessary, even though it’s sufficient to say that reality itself is necessary and everything else is grounded in that.

My advice to Dr. Craig: The things that you’re liable / to read in the Bible? / It ain’t necessarily so. God isn’t necessary. Reality is.


2 thoughts on “Not necessarily necessary

  1. debunk

    Many of Craig's claims are completely unwarranted or even outright silly.

    Going from "everything that began to exist has a cause" to "the universe must have a cause" is simply a category error because he's applying rules he claims exist inside our universe to the universe itself.

    Claiming that actual infinites can't exist because that would lead to absurdities, when he actually means that their existence would lead to conclusions that may be counter-intuitive. The Monty Hall problem is also counter-intuitive, but that doesn't mean that switching choices isn't the best bet.

    I seriously do not get why anyone expects me to accept these premises of his. It's sophism, he's just trying to define his god into existence.

  2. MethodSkeptic

    Good writeup. WLC* irritates the heck out of me because of all the logical fallacies and unstated major premises that are constantly being snuck in. It's rhetorical Thee-Card-Monte.

    I do want to point out that there's also an Equivocation Fallacy on the word "being." You point out that he starts off with things like numbers and other platonic concepts, as well as suns and galaxies as "beings."

    But then by the end, he's defaulted back to a more conventional definition of "being." Even if we grant his entire argument, the only thing you've established is that a necessary "something" caused the universe (Category Error Fallacy–the universe as the set of all contigent "beings" does not mean it is itself a contingent being).

    You can't conclude that the necessary something has any consciousness or interest in human events, any volition of its own, omniscience, omnipotence, the ability or desire to punish or reward humans for their moral choices, or any of the rest.

    The necessary "something" could be "The Instability of Non-Existence," which is something physicists are currently investigating. It could be "the universe" if you take the Category Error Fallacy as excluding "the universe" from the set of all contingent beings. As you said, that *reality itself* is necessary.

    *and by extension, the Gnu Apologists who parrot his arguments.


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