Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Argument From Existence

This morning while doing my checking of blogs, I came across a debate between Victor Stenger and William Lane Craig. Now after a few minutes of Craig talking, my baloney detection kit went off. And it was not for the initial pandering to the audience, but for the first of his six lines of evidence. What he calls: the argument from existence. Or to put it in a way that would be more familiar - why is there something rather than nothing?

The argument goes as follows:
  1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence: either its own nature or an external cause.
  2. The universe exists
  3. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is an external, transcendent, personal cause.
  4. Therefore, the explanation of the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, and personal cause.

And there you have it. Something exists, so it has to be God. At the start of part 2 in the linked playlist, he gives an explanation of why it has to be God. Abstract elements such as triangles can exist on their own nature(1), while planets and galaxies need an external cause(1). So since the universe cannot exist by its own nature, it needs an external cause. And while a triangle cannot create a universe, an intelligent mind fits the description of something that exists by its own nature. Therefore one needs God to create the universe.

Now obviously there are some concerns with such an argument. The first concern I have is with the nature of the examples following to the conclusion. Mountains, planets, and galaxies do have external causes, but these external causes are neither personal nor greater than the effect. Take mountains for example. Now while one could argue that the forces of plate tectonics are greater than the mountains themselves, but the cause is not personal by any means.

Stars would be another example. The collapse of hydrogen clouds is external to the star itself, but the process that allows for the formation of stars is by no means greater than the star itself. And again, it's by no means personal. Only 300 years ago, Newton's laws posited the motion of the stars and planets, but the creation of planets and stars was the work of an almighty creator.

So to me there is no grounds to justify such a bold statement. The only personal structures made by personal beings are humans. Galaxies, stars, planets, mountains, and mountain dwellers have all been shown to organise without needing an external, transcendent and personal cause. So why would the universe itself need one?

The next concern I have is the notion of an intelligent mind being an abstract. The problem with such statements is that such a notion is completely alien to us. An intelligent mind such as the one we have doesn't exist from its own nature, rather it has an external cause. A few billion years of evolution has built the intelligent minds we have today. We have big brains housed in solid bone that can barely fit through the birth canal.

And an intelligent mind doesn't exist of its own sake either. By all evidential accounts, intelligence is a product of physical brain activity. In other words, intelligence the way we know it has a physical foundation. What does it mean to have an intelligent mind that doesn't have a body? How can such a mind just exist for its own sake? It might be possible that one does, but we have no reason to suspect that it can - let alone does.

The next concern I have with such an argument is of what caused the universe. Why can't the universe just exist necessarily? Or at the very least, why can't whatever build the universe exist necessarily? Maybe it's more than just abstracts that exist by their own nature. Quantum fluctuations happen all the time where particles pop into then out of existence. Could the quantum nature of reality exist necessarily?

This argument really pushes credulity. Somehow the universe needs a creator but the creator can necessarily be? As per (2), the universe exists. We can all agree on that. So why complicate matters further by positing an extra entity to explain explanation? All it does is push the logic one step further out. Agnostics / atheists don't ask "who created the creator?" to sounds quasi-philosophical, it's because positing the necessary existence of such a being as being self-evidence is nothing more than special pleading. A universe can't exist by itself, but an intelligent mind can?

The last concern is one I can merely echo from physicists, the universe as it is understood is a universe that can exist from nothing. As Victor Stenger argues, something and nothing can be defined in terms of physics with nothing being much more unstable than something. Lawrence Krauss argues that a flat universe is a universe where the total energy is zero. The negative energy of gravity balances out the positive energy of matter. According to Krauss, zero total energy and quantum fluctuations can produce a universe. We don't need to posit a creator.

For those concerns above, I reject that a personal deity is necessary for my existence. It may be that there is a god behind it all, I don't know. As it stands I have no idea of where universes come from and what lies behind the observational reality. It might even be impossible from our vantage point to have a theory of everything.

So when the question is put to me of why there is something rather than nothing, I don't respond by asking "why there is God rather than nothing" or any other concerns listed above. Instead my reaction is, if there weren't something then we wouldn't be here to ask why there is something rather than nothing. From our own existence we can infer that there's something, that something is necessary. But why? Well that seems to be asking the wrong question, only valid in the same fuzzy metaphorical sense of asking why do birds have wings. It's promiscuous teleology, and we really should know better than that by now!


Rorschach said...

Fallacy of affirming the consequent, pure and simple lol.

Nice blog,must pop in more often..:-)

llewelly said...

"Mountains and planets and galaxies do have external causes, but these external cause are neither impersonal nor greater than the cause."
Needs 4 fixes:
"Mountains and planets and galaxies ..." => "Mountains, planets, and galaxies ..."
"... these external cause ..." => "... these external causes ..."
"... are neither impersonal ..." => "... are neither personal ..."
"... nor greater than the cause." => "... nor greater than the effect."
Which should result in:
"Mountains, planets, and galaxies do have external causes, but these external causes are neither personal nor greater than the effect."

Kel said...

Fixed, thanks for that.

rationalist said...

Kel, the argument from existence is as the Metaverse is all, there can be no external cause or materials whence it comes. The infinite regress argument is that cause, event and time presuppose previous ones.
Thus, no need for that useless redundancy, Alister Earl McGrath notwithstanding.
Note Inquiring Lynn'a poTS @ Pharyngula,please.nd do see my blog rationalist here.