bookmark_borderWilliam Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation – Part 4

Craig’s presentation of KCA in 1979 (in The Existence of God and The Beginning of the Universe) has the following structure:
I. The intermediate conclusion (the conclusion of his syllogistic argument) is stated in ambiguous language, ambiguous concerning whether there is AT LEAST ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe or EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe.
II. Only the WEAK interpretation of this intermediate conclusion can be validly inferred from the premises (i.e. the premises only imply that there is AT LEAST ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe).
III. Craig then shifts to using unambiguous language which assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe.
IV. Finally, Craig urges the identification of the ONE UNCAUSED CAUSE of the universe with God.
We find this same structure in Craig’s presentation of KCA in 1994 (in Reasonable Faith, the revised edition), and the  same structure occurs in Craig’s most recent presentation of KCA in 2015 (in Craig’s 2015  lecture on KCA at the University of Birmingham).  Thus, Craig has been commiting the fallacy of equivocation for nearly four decades (for 36 years to be precise).

Reasonable Faith (revised edition, 1994)

 I. The Intermediate conclusion is stated in ambiguous language.
In Reasonable Faith, Craig continues to state the conclusion of the syllogistic argument in ambiguous language:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2.The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
(Reasonable Faith, p.92)
The intermediate conclusion (3) has at least two possible meanings:
3a. The universe has AT LEAST ONE cause.
3b. The universe has EXACTLY ONE cause.
Craig runs through the second phase of the argument in six paragraphs later in the book (p.116-117).  He initially re-iterates his ambiguous intermediate conclusion, and then infers another equally amgiguous intermediate conclusion (emphasis in CAPS added by me):
From the first premiss–that whatever begins to exist has a cause–and the second premiss–that the universe began to exist–it follows logically that THE UNIVERSE HAS A CAUSE.  This conclusion ought to stagger us, to fill us with awe, for it means that THE UNIVERSE WAS BROUGHT INTO EXISTENCE BY SOMETHING which is greater than and beyond it.
(Reasonable Faith, p.116)
II. Only the WEAK interpretation of this intermediate conclusion can be validly inferred from the premises (i.e. the premises only imply that there is AT LEAST ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe).
Nothing has changed in the 1994 version of KCA that would make Craig’s syllogism a valid argument for the intermediate conclusion that there is EXACTLY ONE cause of the universe.  It is clear that only the weaker conclusion follows validly (i.e that there is AT LEAST ONE cause of the universe).
III. Craig then shifts to using unambiguous language which assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the existence of the universe.
In the second paragraph of Craig’s wrap up of KCA, he immediately slides into unambiguous language about the quantity of causes of the universe (emphasis added by me):
But what is the nature of THIS FIRST CAUSE? It seems to me quite plausible that IT is a personal being WHO created the universe.   (Reasonable Faith, p.116)
Paragraph 3 starts off with an ambiguous statement of the intermediate conclusion, but then slides into unambigious language assuming that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that is the cause of the universe (emphasis added by me):
Consider the following puzzle: we’ve concluded that the beginning of the universe was the effect of A FIRST CAUSE.  By the nature of the case THAT COSMIC CAUSE cannot have any beginning of ITS existence nor any prior cause.  Nor can there have been any changes in THIS CAUSE, either in ITS nature or operations, prior to the beginning of the universe.  IT just exists changelessly without any beginning, and a finite time ago IT brought the universe into existence.  Now this is exceedingly odd.  THE CAUSE is in some sense eternal and yet the effect which is produced is not eternal… How can THE CAUSE exist without the effect?
(Reasonable Faith, p.116-117)
Craig continues to use the unambigious expression “the cause” in Paragraph 4 (emphasis added by me):
But this seems to imply that if THE CAUSE of the universe existed eternally, the universe would also have existed eternally.  And this we know to be false. (Reasonable Faith, p. 117)
Craig continues to use the unambigious expression “the cause” in Paragraph 5 (emphasis added by me):
One might say that THE CAUSE came to exist or changed in some way just prior to the first event.  But then THE CAUSE’S beginning or changing would be the first event, and we must ask all over again for ITS cause. … The question is: How can a first event come to exist if THE CAUSE of that event exists changelessly and eternally?  Why isn’t the effect as co-eternal as THE CAUSE?  (Reasonable Faith, p. 117)
At the beginning of Paragraph 6, Craig re-iterates the unambigious expression “the cause” (emphasis added by me):
It seems that there is only one way out of this dilemma, and that is to infer that THE CAUSE of the universe is a personal agent WHO chooses to create a universe in time. (Reasonable Faith, p.117)
IV. Finally, Craig urges the identification of the ONE UNCAUSED CAUSE of the universe with God.
In the middle of Paragraph 6, Craig introduces the terms “Creator” and “God” and relates them to the phrase “the cause” (emphasis added by me):
…a finite time ago A CREATOR endowed with free will could have willed to bring the world into being at that moment.  In this way, GOD could exist changelessly and eternally but choose to create the world in time.  By “choose” one need not mean that THE CREATOR changes HIS mind about the decision to create, but that HE freely and eternally intends to create a world with a beginning.  By exercising HIS causal power, HE therefore brings it about that a world with a beginning comes to exist.  So THE CAUSE is eternal, but the effect is not.  (p.117)
In Paragraph 6, Craig starts out claiming that THE CAUSE of the universe is a personal agent.  He then talks about A CREATOR, then slides into speaking of THE CREATOR, and he refers to THE CREATOR with the singular masculine pronoun HE, and masculine possessive HIS.  Craig also drops the word GOD along the way, but does not explicitly claim that THE CREATOR or THE CAUSE of the universe ought to be identified with GOD.
However, when Craig initially introduces KCA, he implies that the conclusion of KCA is that God exists:
…I find the kalam cosmological argument for a temporal cause of the universe to be one of the most plausible arguments for God’s existence.  (p.92)
So, the reader already knows what the ultimate conclusion of KCA is supposed to be: God exists.
In the next section of Reasonable Faith, Craig goes on to discuss the Fine Tuning argument, but in the very first sentence of that section, Craig refers back to what was supposedly shown by KCA:
The purely philosophical argument for the personhood of THE CAUSE of the origin of the universe receives powerful scientific confirmation from the observed fine-tuning of the universe, which bespeaks intelligent design.
(Reasonable Faith, p.118)
This is very similar to the wording of a conclusion Craig states on p. 117:  “the cause of the universe is a personal agent…”. And it is clear that Craig is suggesting that this ONE cause, this ONE personal agent,  be identified as THE CREATOR of the universe and as GOD.
Thus we see that in 1994, Craig was still commiting the fallacy of equivocation in his presentation of KCA, just as he did in his 1979 presentation of KCA, just as Aquinas did in his presentation of cosmological arguments for God nearly 800 years ago.

bookmark_borderWilliam Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation – Part 3

In comments on the previous post in this series, Scott Scheule pointed out that Wiliam Craig admits that KCA does NOT show that there is EXACTLY ONE first cause or creator (emphasis added by me):
Finally, we have objection
4. The argument doesn’t prove that monotheism is true.
I concede the point. I’ve never claimed that the argument proves that there is exactly one Personal Creator of the universe. But as you note, Ockham’s Razor enjoins that we not multiply causes beyond necessity. We are warranted in postulating only such causes as are necessary to explain the effect. All that is required in this case is one Personal Creator. To postulate more would be unwarranted.
In my discussion with Scott, I pointed out that a number of major critics of cosmological arguments have made the objection that some version of cosmological argument fails to establish that there is EXACTLY ONE first cause:
Paul Edwards (“The Cosmological Argument” in Critiques of God, p.46)
J.L. Mackie (The Miracle of Theism, p.87)
Michael Martin (Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, p.103)
Graham Oppy (Arguing About Gods, p.99)
William Rowe  (The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, p.115)
Jordan Sobel (Logic and Theism, p.190-193)
Michael Martin and William Rowe raise the objection specifically against KCA.
J.L. Mackie is commenting on a popular form of the First Cause argument for God.
Paul Edwards, Graham Oppy, and Jordan Sobel are objecting to Aquinas’s 2nd Way.
Note that Sobel carefully analyzes the meaning of a key premise of the 2nd Way, points out ambiguity in that premise ( an ambiguity related to the quanity of first causes), and then argues that there is a “logical gap” in the 2nd Way because of the ambiguity in that key premise.  In other words, Sobel carefully argues that the 2nd Way commits the fallacy of equivocation. Although Sobel does not use the words “fallacy of equivocation” in his objection, it is clear that that is the point of his objection.
It is now time to get into the details concerning my claim that Craig committed the fallacy of equivocation in his presentation of KCA back in 1979.  In a future post, I will get into details concerning my claim that Craig has continued to commit this fallacy up to the present day.

The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe (1979)

In this book, Craig lays out KCA for a general audience.  He provides two philosophical arguments and two scientific arguments for the claim that “the universe had a beginning.” (p.69).
Craig starts out his argumentation with a summary that already indicates that his argument will commit the fallacy of equivocation:
Why does something exist instead of nothing? Unless we are prepared to believe that the universe simply popped into existence uncaused out of nothing, then the answer must be: Something exists because there is an eternal, uncaused being for which no further explanation is possible.  But who or what is this eternal uncaused being? Leibniz identified it with God.  (p.37-38)
He speaks here of an intermediate conclusion that “there is an eternal, uncaused being…”.  This intermediate conclusion is ambiguous, because of the ambiguous phrase “an eternal uncaused being” which might mean either (a) AT LEAST ONE eternal uncaused being or (b) EXACTLY ONE eternal uncaused being.
But in the very next sentence, Craig shifts his terminology to speaking about “this eternal uncaused being” which assumes that there is ONLY ONE such being. In the sentence after that, Craig uses the pronoun “it”  referring back to “this eternal uncaused being” reinforcing the idea that he is talking about a SINGLE being.  Craig suggests that “it” could be “identified…with God”, and since “God” is understood to be the proper name of a particular being, this adds further reinforcement of the suggestiong that the expressions “it” and “this eternal uncaused being” refer to EXACTLY ONE uncaused being.
But the reason given in this summary argument is clearly incapable of supporting the claim that there is EXACTLY ONE eternal uncaused being.  The denial that the universe popped into existence uncaused out of nothing has no such implication.  The hypothesis that there were FIVE eternal uncaused beings (for example) would avoid the implication that the universe popped into existence uncaused out of nothing.
So, we see here Craig gives a reason in support of an ambiguous intermediate conclusion (just as Aquinas does in his cosmological arguments), and the reason given for the ambiguous conclusion only supports the WEAKER version of that conclusion: “there is AT LEAST ONE eternal uncaused being” (just as in Aquinas’s cosmological arguments).  Then Craig shifts his terminology so that it is no longer ambiguous but instead ASSUMES the truth of the STRONGER version of the intermediate conclusion: “there is EXACTLY ONE eternal uncaused being” (just as in Aquinas’s cosmological arguments).  Finally, Craig suggests that the SINGLE eternal uncaused being is to be identified as “God” (just as Aquinas does at the end of his cosmological arguments).
Since the above quotation of Craig is obviously a brief summary of his argument, this quotation is insufficient to convict Craig of the fallacy of equivocation, but it does strongly hint that Craig will use ambiguous language and commit the fallacy of equivocation by shifting his terminology as he gets closer to the conclusion of his argument.  For anyone familiar with issues of ambiguity, equivocation, and unclarity of quantification, this paragraph by Craig raises a big RED FLAG:   Warning – the following argument may contain unclear and misleading use of language that will lead to fallacious reasoning.
Craig wraps up his argument on pages 85-87, and it is there that we see him follow in the footsteps of Aquinas and commit the fallacy of equivocation.  First, Craig establishes an ambiguous intermediate conclusion (just like Aquinas did):
Paragraph 1 (starting about 2/3 down the page on page 85)
Any unprejudiced inquirer ought to agree with me, at this point, that the universe was caused to exist.  Now this is truly a remarkable conclusion.  It means that the universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it. (p.85)
Craig’s reasoning here can be summarized this way:
 1. The universe was caused to exist.
2. The universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it.
Premise (2) is an ambiguous intermediate conclusion. The expression “caused to exist by something” is ambiguous, making premise (2) ambiguous between the following two meanings:
2a.  The universe was caused to exist by AT LEAST ONE thing that is beyond the universe and greater than the universe.
2b. The universe was caused to exist by EXACTLY ONE thing that is beyond the universe and greater than the universe.
But,  the reason given in support of (2) only supports the WEAKER claim (2a), and does not support the stronger claim (2b).  This parallels the problem with Aquinas’s 2nd Way.
The reason given in support of (2) is (1), and (1) says nothing about HOW MANY things were involved in causing the universe to exist.  At best, the most that one could infer from (1), apart from additional argumentation,  is (2a) (and even that requires a significant bit of argument, which is missing from Craig’s presentation in this book).  Given the absence of additional arumentation, there is NO REASON at this point to conclude that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the universe to exist. At most, we can conclude that there is AT LEAST ONE thing that caused the universe to exist, i.e. (2a) is the most that we can infer from (1).
Paragraph 2 (starting near the bottom of page 85)
But in the very next paragraph, Craig shifts his terminology, and the new terminology is no longer ambiguous concerning the quanity of things that are causes of the existence of the universe (emphasis added by me):
Now let’s turn to our third set of alternatives, and I will explain why I think THE CAUSE OF THE UNIVERSE is personal rather than impersonal.  The first event in the series of past events was, as we have seen, the beginning of the universe.  We have agreed, reasonably, that that event was caused.  Now the question is: If  THE CAUSE OF THE UNIVERSE is eternal, then why isn’t the universe also eternal, since it is the effect of THE CAUSE. (p.85-86)
So Craig moves from the ambiguous phrase “the universe was caused to exist by something”, which on one interpretation allows for the possibility that MANY things are causes of the existence of the universe, to the unambiguous phrase “the cause of the universe”, which assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that is the cause of the existence of the universe. At the end of Paragraph 2, Craig shortens this unambiguous phrase to “the cause”, which (in this context) is still unambiguous and still assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the universe to exist.
Paragraph 3 (starting about 1/4 down the page on page 86)
In the next paragraph (which I’m calling “Paragraph 3”), Craig continues with tht unambigious phrase “the cause of the universe” (emphasis added by me):
…But this seems to imply that if THE CAUSE OF THE UNIVERSE existed from eternity, the universe would also have existed from eternity. And this we know to be false. (p.86)
Paragraph 4 (starting about 2/3 down the page on page 86)
In Paragraph 4, Craig shortens the unambiguous phrase “the cause of the universe” down to just “the cause” which still assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the universe to exist (emphasis added by me):
One might say that THE CAUSE came to exist just prior to the first event.  But then THE CAUSE’s beginning would be the first event, and we must ask all over for ITs cause.  And this cannot go on forever, for we know that a beginningless series of events cannot exist.  There must be an absolute first event, before which there was no change, no previous event.  We know that this first event must have been caused.  Our question now is: How can a first event come to exist if THE CAUSE of that event has always existed?  Why isn’t the effect as eternal as THE CAUSE? 
Although it is already clear that the phrase “the cause” implies that we are talking about EXACTLY ONE thing that is the ONLY cause of the universe, Craig adds further confirmation of this by using the singular possessive pronoun “its” to refer to “the cause”.  Craig uses the unambiguous phrase “the cause” four times in Paragraph 4.
 Paragraph 5 (starting near the bottom of page 86)
In Paragraph 5, Craig returns to the longer unambiguous phrase “the cause of the universe” and then follows this with the shorter unambiguous phrase “the cause”, and he finally brings in the word “God”, which is understood to be the proper name of ONE particular being (emphasis added by me):
It seems to me that there is only one way out of this dilemma, and that is to conclude that THE CAUSE OF THE UNIVERSE is personal and chooses to create the universe in time.  This way, GOD could exist changelessly from eternity but choose to create the world in time.  By “choose” I do not mean GOD changes His mind, but that He intends to create a world with a beginning.  And, therefore, a world with a beginning comes to exist.  So, THE CAUSE is eternal, but the effect is not.  It seems to me that this is the only way the universe could have come to exist: through the will of a personal creator.  And I think we are justified in calling a personal creator of the universe by the name “God.”  (p.86-87)
Since, as Craig indicates, the word “God” functions as a name, it makes sense to call “a personal creator of the universe” by this name ONLY IF the phrase “a personal creator of the universe” refers to EXACTLY ONE being.  If there were MANY personal creators of the universe, then it would make no sense to assign the proper name “God” to that collection of personal creators.
Furthermore, in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the word “God” is understood to refer to EXACTLY ONE being.  From the point of view of these western religions, if there are MANY creators, then there is no such being as “God” because this concept requires that the being in question is the ONE and ONLY creator of the universe.  Craig is a traditional Christian believer, so he presumably is using the word “God” in accordance with traditional Christian theology.  Thus, in asserting that we are “justified in calling a personal creator of the universe by the name of ‘God’,”  Craig assumes that the phrase “a personal creator” is (in this context) a reference to EXACTLY ONE personal creator, not to MANY personal creators.
Let’s review what is going on in these five paragraphs, where Craig is wrapping up his presentation of KCA.  In Paragraph 1 Craig infers an ambiguous intermediate conclusion (similar to what Aquinas does in the 2nd Way):
2. The universe was caused to exist by something beyond it and greater than it.
The reason given in support of this ambiguous conclusion only supports the WEAK interpretation of (2):
2a.  The universe was caused to exist by AT LEAST ONE thing that is beyond the universe and greater than the universe.
But then in the next four paragraphs, Craig switches to using unambiguous language that assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE thing or being that caused the existence of the universe.
In Paragraph 2, Craig uses the phrase “the cause of the universe” two times, and then uses a shortened version of that phrase once: “the cause”.  In Paragraph 3, Craig again uses the phrase “the cause of the universe”, once.  In Paragraph 4, Craig uses the shortened version “the cause” four times, and uses the singular possessive pronoun “its” in reference to “the cause”.  Finally, in Paragraph 5, Craig uses both the longer unambiguous phrase “the cause of the universe” (once) and the shorter version “the cause” (once), and then he introduces the word “God” and asserts that “we are justified in calling a personal creator of the universe by the name ‘God'”, thus assuming that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that caused the universe to exist.
In other words, in Paragraph 1 we have an intermediate conclusion that is stated in ambiguous language, and in which the reason supporting that conclusion only supports the interpretation of that conclusion that makes the weaker claim that there is AT LEAST ONE thing that is a cause of the universe, but in the next four paragraphs, Craig consistently uses unambiguous language which assumes the truth of the interpretation of the intermediate conclusion that makes the stronger claim that there is EXACTLY ONE thing that is a cause of the universe.
Thus, in this 1979 presentation of KCA, William Craig commits the fallacy of equivocation.

bookmark_borderLINK: New Essay by Galen Strawson: “Real Naturalism”

“I’m a naturalist, an out-and-out naturalist, a philosophical or metaphysical naturalist, a naturalist about concrete reality. I don’t think anything supernatural or otherwise non-natural exists.
One can’t classify anything as supernatural or non-natural until one has a substantive conception of the natural relative to which something can be classified as non-natural. I do have one. I take it that reality—by which I mean concrete reality, anything that exists in spacetime—is entirely physical. I’m a physicalist naturalist. I don’t believe there’s any non- physical concrete reality. I think metaphysical naturalism is the same thing as physicalism as just defined: the view that concrete reality is entirely physical (I’m putting ethics aside).There are, however, important questions to be raised about what this amounts to. They’re old questions, in fact, but they haven’t received enough attention recently. One result of this is that many—probably most—philosophers who call themselves naturalists are in fact extreme anti-naturalists. They’re false naturalists— noturalists. “


bookmark_borderWilliam Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation – Part 2

One reason why it should be OBVIOUS that Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument (hereafter: KCA) involves the fallacy of equivocation, is that Aquinas commits a very similar fallacy of equivocation in his cosmological arguments for God.
Every (or almost every) introduction to philosophy of religion course includes at least a brief examination of Aquinas’s Five Ways or Five Arguments for God.  So,  almost every philosophy student who has taken an introduction to philosophy of religion course has been exposed to the sort of fallacy of equivocation that occurs in KCA.
Let’s look at Aquinas’s first argument for God.  Here are a couple of key premises:
1. In the world some things are in motion.
2. Whatever is moved is moved by another.
To be “moved by another” is ambiguous.   This might mean either (a) “moved by AT LEAST ONE other thing” or it could mean (b)  “moved by EXACTLY ONE other thing”.   The premise is plausible on interpretation (a), but is clearly false on interpretation (b):
2a. Whatever is moved is moved by AT LEAST ONE other thing.
2b. Whatever is moved is moved by EXACTLY ONE other thing.
Premise (2b) is clearly FALSE, because it is possible for two moving objects to cause a third object to move, as when two moving billiard balls simultaneously bump up against a third stationary billiard ball and cause the third billiard ball to start moving.  So, for premise (2) of Aquinas’s first argument for God to have a chance of being true, we must interpret the ambiguous claim in (2) as meaning (2a).
But as the argument proceeds, Aquinas shifts into talking about a SINGLE first mover:
If that by which it is moved be itself moved, then this also must needs be moved by another, and that by another again.  But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and consequently, no other mover, seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover; …Therefore, it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; an this everyone understands to be God.
(Religious Belief and Philosophical Thought: Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, by William Alston, p.29 – excerpt from Summa Theologica).
Aquinas speaks of “the first mover” implying that there must only be ONE thing that initiates movement.  But even if there was just ONE SINGLE chain of one object moving another object moving another object, no matter how far back we go, we cannot infer that the prior cause of movement was a SINGLE object or thing; it might well be TWO or THREE or a THOUSAND things, because premise (2b) only supports an inference to there being AT LEAST ONE prior object or thing that causes the movement.
Aquinas then concludes that “this” first mover is understood to be God.  But to speak of “this” first mover, clearly implies that there was EXACTLY ONE such mover, and to identify the ultimate cause of motion as God, who is by definition,  ONE BEING, is also to assume that there is EXACTLY ONE such mover.  So, we see in Aquinas’s first argument for God, a clear shift between an ambiguous initial premise (2), which might refer to either (a) “moved by AT LEAST ONE other thing”   or to (b) “moved by EXACTLY ONE other thing”, to a conclusion that assumes that there must be EXACTLY ONE thing that is “the first mover”.  But premise (2) is plausible only if we give it interpretation (a) “moved by AT LEAST ONE other thing”, in which case the conclusion that there is EXACTLY ONE first mover does NOT logically follow.
Aquinas thus commits the fallacy of equivocation in his first argument for the existence of God, which is generally considered to be a cosmological argument.  
A similar equivocation fallacy occurs in Aquinas’s third argument for God. The third way is also considered to be a cosmological argument.  Here are some key premises [this is not the complete argument]:
1. If at one time [in the past] nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist.
 2.  If it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist [after some particular point in time in the past], then even now nothing would be in existence.
3. But it is absurd [i.e. false] that nothing is in existence now.
4. Therefore…there must exist something the existence of which is necessary.
I realize that (4) does not follow from premises (1), (2) and (3), but that is because I have left out some other premises of this argument.  My point here is that the meaning of “there must exist something” in premise (4) is nailed down by the logic of the argument supporting (4).  There could NOT have been a past time when nothing existed, so we can conclude that in every point in time in the past SOMETHING has existed, and this clearly means that AT LEAST ONE thing exists in any given point in time in the past (allowing that different things could exist at different points in time in the past).
So, when interpreted properly, (4) means this:
4a.  There must exist AT LEAST ONE thing the existence of which is necessary. 
But the conclusion that Aquinas draws requires that we assume the truth of a different premise:
4b.  There must exist EXACTLY ONE thing the existence of which is necessary.
Notice how the language of Aquinas shifts to talk about a SINGLE being or thing:
Therefore we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity.  This all men speak of as God.
(Religious Belief and Philosophical Thought, p.30)
The phrase “some being” is ambiguous between “EXACTLY ONE being” and “AT LEAST ONE being”, but in the very next sentence, Aquinas shifts to speaking about “This” which assumes that there is EXACTLY ONE being which has the sort of “necessity” in question.  And, of course, “God” by definition refers to a SINGLE being.  But the key premise that Aquinas is basing his conclusion on only talks about there being AT LEAST ONE being that has this sort of necessity.  So, once again, Aquinas commits the fallacy of equivocation.  The argument for premise (4) is logically valid only if we interpret (4) to mean (4a).  But Aquinas’s conclusion follows validly from premise (4) only if we interpret it to mean (4b).
In conclusion, IF I am correct that William Craig has committed a similar fallacy of equivocation in his cosmological argument (KCA), THEN the fallacy that Craig commits has about an 800 year history, and occurred in the most studied and examined versions of the cosmological argument, found in Aquinas’s Five Ways of arguing for the existence of God.

bookmark_borderWilliam Lane Craig: 36 Years of Equivocation

William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument (hereafer: KCA) has been kicked around for several decades now, so it is very unlikely that I will come up with some new devastating objection that nobody has previously thought of (and published).
I purchased my copy of The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe (Here’s Life Publishers, 1979), which presents KCA for a general audience, in the summer of 1982 (or 1983?) at the bookstore at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where Craig was teaching at the time.  I dropped in at the school while travelling in hopes of meeting with Craig in person.  At that point in my young life I was still an Evangelical Christian, with plans to do graduate study at Trinity with Craig.  Craig was out of office, perhaps doing some summer travelling himself, so we did not meet.
I am confident that there are many serious objections to KCA because all of the following excellent philosophers have raised objections against it:
Thomas Aquinas
Edwin Curley
Paul Draper
Nicholas Everitt
Antony Flew
Richard Gale
Adolf Grunbaum
Douglas Jesseph
Stephen Law
J.L. Mackie
Michael Martin
Wes Morriston
Graham Oppy
Alexander Pruss
Keith Parsons
Massimo Pigliucci
Robin Le Poidevin
William Rowe
Bede Rundle
Walter Sinnot-Armstrong
Quentin Smith
Jordan Sobel
Richard Swinburne
John Taylor
Michael Tooley
Corey Washington
Keith Yandell
Most of these philosophers are philosophers of religion and most are atheists.  However, there are a few notable theists as well (indicated by italics).  I wasn’t sure whether to categorize Richard Gale as an atheist (because of his skeptical view of most arguments for God) or as a theist (because he helped create and defended a new version of cosmological argument).  In any case, since Gale has himself proposed a cosmological argument for God, I’m counting him as a theist, since he obviously must have some sympathy for other philosophers who defend some version of cosmological argument. (Richard M. Gale died earlier this summer, which was a significant loss to the philosophy of religion.)
The theists who have objected to KCA include two superstars of philosophy of religion: Thomas Aquinas and Richard Swinburne.  Alexander Pruss and Richard Gale are philosophers of religion who have expertise in the study of cosmological arguments for God, and they created a new version of cosmological argument.  So, their criticisms of KCA should be taken seriously.  Keith Yandell is no slouch either.  Keith specialized in the philosophy of religion, and he is now retired.  In fact, he is currently an “affiliated” professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where William Craig taught philosophy of religion in the 1980s.  So, we have an Evangelical Christian philosopher who is a respected expert in philosophy of religion who has raised objections to KCA.  According to Jeff Lowder, one of the best critiques of KCA was written by Wes Morriston, who is a theist.
There are a few other theist philosophers who should be mentioned, who do not appear on the above list:
Michael Peterson
William Hasker
Bruce Reichenbach
David Basinger
These four philosophers of religion have produced an introductory text on the philosophy of religion titled: Reason & Religious Belief.  In that text there is a brief critique of KCA, and the argument is found wanting (although KCA is not definitively refuted or rejected there).
Clearly, it is not just atheist philosophers who find problems with KCA.
It should also be noted that William Rowe, who is one of the atheists who have objected to KCA, is not only a philosopher of religion, but he specialized in the study of cosmological arguments for God, and is recognized as a leading expert on such arguments.  The article on “Cosmological Arguments” in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion was written by William Rowe.  Many edited collections of articles for philosophy of religion courses contain articles by William Rowe on the cosmological argument. (Sadly, William Rowe died this summer).
OK, now to the business of criticizing KCA.  I’m only going to raise one objection here, and this is not an entirely new objection, nor is it a devastating objection to KCA.
However, there is an OBVIOUS problem with KCA that should have been fixed long ago, and I wish to pound on William Craig for a bit, for failing to fix this problem with KCA for at least thirty-six years.  KCA involves an obvious equivocation fallacy, one that every student of philosophy ought to notice, especially any philosophy student who has had an Introductory course in philosophy of religion.  And yet, here we are nearly four decades after Craig began pushing KCA, and in 2015 he is still committing the same fucking logical fallacy that he was committing in 1979.  This has got to STOP!
Craig should not take all of the blame here.  Atheist philosophers should have pounded on Craig for this obvious equivocation fallacy, and should have long ago SHAMED Craig into reformulating his argument.  But, although a few atheist critics have hinted at this problem, I have not seen anyone make the effort to clearly point out the OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION in KCA.  So, I’m going to try to take up some of the slack here, and do the work that other atheist critics of KCA have (as far as I am aware) failed to do.
Michael Martin comes the closest to pounding on Craig for the equivocation in KCA, so Martin should be given some credit(for the objection I’m going to lay out).  He points to the problem in the very first sentences of his “Evaluation” of KCA:
It should be obvious that Craig’s conclusion that a single personal agent created the universe is a non sequitur.  At most, this Kalam argument shows that some personal agent or agents created the universe.  Craig cannot validly conclude that a single agent is the creator.  
(Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, p.103)
William Rowe, a leading expert on cosmological arguments, makes a similar objection:
Even granting that the cause of the Big Bang is a mind, is it clear that it is a single mind rather than a multiplicity of minds who collaborated on the project of producing the Big Bang?
(“Cosmological Arguments” in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, p.115)
This sort of objection goes back at least as far as David Hume, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a form of this objection was discussed by medieval philosophers.  Hume raised this sort of objection against the argument from design:
And what shadow of an argument, continued Philo, can you produce from your hypothesis to prove the unity of the Deity? A great number of men join in building a house or a ship, in rearing a city, in framing a commonwealth; why may not several deities combine in contriving and framing a world? This is only so much greater similarity to human affairs. By sharing the work among several, we may so much further limit the attributes of each, and get rid of that extensive power and knowledge which must be supposed in one deity, and which, according to you, can only serve to weaken the proof of his existence.
(Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and the Posthumous Essays, Hackett Publishing Co., 1980, p.36 – about halfway through Part V of the Dialogues.  Hume completed writing of the Dialogues in 1776.)
So, the objection that an argument for God fails to establish the existence of a SINGLE deity (monotheism), as opposed to MANY deities (polytheism) goes back at least 239 years, perhaps many more if medieval philosophers considered this sort of objection.
So, at least two major critics of KCA have made this sort of objection, and probably others have as well.  But neither Martin nor Rowe point out how this problem arises because of an OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION in Craig’s formulation of KCA.  I have not reviewed the entire literature on KCA, so somebody else might well have already made this point, but apparently nobody has pounded Craig enough to get him to STOP HIS OBNOXIOUS EQUIVOCATING.
Here is how Craig formulates the first phase of the KCA:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The univerese began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
(Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview, by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, IVP, 2003, p.468)
The problem should be obvious to any undergraduate philosophy student, or even to a non-philosophy student who has done well in a course on logic or critical thinking.  The offending phrase here is “a cause”.  This phrase can be given at least two different interpretations.  It might mean “exactly one cause”, or it might mean “at least one cause”.  This ambiguity of quantification creates the potential for the fallacy of EQUIVOCATION. When KCA is formulated clearly, by dropping the ambiguous phrase “a cause”, it is clear and obvious that on one possible interpretation the above argument is LOGICALLY INVALID:
1a.  Whatever begins to exist has AT LEAST ONE cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3b. The universe has EXACTLY ONE cause.
The conclusion (3b) does NOT follow from the premises.  This is why Craig cannot logically conclude that there is only one deity or only one creator from KCA.   Michael Martin and William Rowe are both correct to point out that KCA does not eliminate the possibility that the universe is the product of many gods or many minds, but they failed to point out that the mistaken inference to there being only one god or only one creator was supported by the OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION in William Craig’s formulation of KCA.
One reason why this is an OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION is that the same equivocation occurs in one or more of the cosmological arguments put forward by Aquinas.   Every introduction to philosophy of religion covers the cosmological arguments for God presented by Aquinas, and every introduction to philosophyof religion course that is taught by a reasonably intelligent philosopher or philosophy grad student will point out this problem in Aquinas’s cosmological arguments.  So, this very same shit has been going on for about 800 years now.  Can we just make a tiny bit of progress here? Can we STOP THE OBNOXIOUS EQUIVOCATION on ambiguous phrases like “a cause”?!
If Craig has any intellectual integrity, he will reformulate the first phase of KCA to eliminate the ambiguity:
1a.  Whatever begins to exist has AT LEAST ONE cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3a. The universe has AT LEAST ONE cause.
I’m going to take a break now, but will do a Part 2, where I carefully walk through Craig’s presentation of KCA from 1979, and also his presentations of KCA from more recent years, showing how he keeps right on doing this OBVIOUS EQUIVOCATION.

bookmark_borderGary Habermas Shows Why the ‘Minimal Facts’ of Jesus’ Death Can’t Establish the Resurrection

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Taylor Carr republished on The Secular Outpost with permission. The original post may be found on his blog, The Godless Skeptic.

Gary Habermas is a New Testament scholar and philosopher of religion at Liberty University who has devoted much of his career to defending a historical case for the resurrection of Jesus. For over 30 years now, Habermas has collected and analyzed scholarly materials published on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, distilling them down to a core set of trends. His work has been cited by numerous Christian apologists, perhaps most notably in The Case for Christ and the debates and writings of William Lane Craig.
Recently, Dr. Habermas appeared on the Unbelievable radio show and podcast in dialogue with James Crossley on whether the “minimal facts” surrounding Jesus’ death support the resurrection. Crossley is an agnostic New Testament scholar at the University of Sheffield and the author of a book called Jesus and the Chaos of History. The minimal facts are intended to be general points of agreement acceptable even to skeptics, and the two criteria Habermas gives are that they be facts with multiple lines of argument supporting them, and they share in a consensus made up of the “vast majority” of New Testament scholars.
Habermas identifies 6 minimal facts in the show, which are as follows:
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2. The disciples had experiences they believed to be of the risen Jesus.
3. Some among the disciples died for their belief.
4. James, a skeptic, was converted.
5. Paul, a skeptic and persecutor of Christians, was converted.
6. The earliness of the proclamation of the risen Jesus.
One immediately noteworthy thing missing from this list is the empty tomb. To his credit, Gary concedes that the empty tomb is not a minimal fact because of the many biblical historians who dispute it. As the host, Justin, remarks, this seems contrary to what some apologists, like William Lane Craig, have attempted to cull from Dr. Habermas’ work. In his book God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist, co-written with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor Craig writes: “There are at least four facts about the fate of the historical Jesus that are widely accepted by New Testament historians today.” (p. 22, italics mine) Dr. Craig then goes on to articulate some of the reasons that “most scholars” accept the empty tomb.
Of course, it could be contended that this is just another way of saying that the majority of scholars favor the empty tomb as a historical fact. However, 1/3 to 1/4 of experts dissenting from a given viewpoint is not a negligible difference. Things get even sketchier when you look at the methodology behind Dr. Habermas’2005 study and discover how that figure is calculated. The survey is not a comprehensive one of thousands of New Testament scholars, it’s a survey of select literature published in German, French and English since 1975. While Gary’s work offers important insights, he also has not released his data, despite requests for it, and the closest we get to an idea of how many sources he’s surveyed is “more than 1400” in that 2005 study of his. Break that down over 30 years and that’s a ballpark average of 46.7 studies examined per year. It’s hardly a robust amount of data from which to assess the opinions of New Testament scholarship on the whole.
This methodological problem has implications beyond the empty tomb, too, for all of the six minimal facts mentioned above, as well as any other facts that could be conjured up on the same basis. So whether Dr. Habermas wants to single out 4 facts, 6 facts, 12 facts, or his exceedingly generous 21 facts, the fatal flaw remains present in all cases. Statistical analysis is only as good as your data and the method you use to analyze that data, and a study like the one published by Dr. Habermas in a religious studies journal would not pass in an introductory level Stats class (I say this from experience). Granted, it was probably not Gary’s intent to do a rigorous statistical analysis, but the limitations of this research need to be noted when attempts are made at extrapolating certain trends from it. For more on this specific concern, see Richard Carrier’s article, Innumeracy: A Fault to Fix.
But what real use is a list of even roughly calculated minimal facts when it requires another list of supplementary philosophical assumptions in order to support the resurrection? Near the end of the discussion on the podcast, Habermas explains that the way he sees of moving from the death of Jesus and the reports of his postmortem appearances to the involvement of the supernatural is by bringing in “worldview aspects.” This is, in fact, something he notes early on in the show. Among these assumptions are conclusions about the character and identity of Jesus, and the continuation of life after death, though I would argue there are additional assumptions about the existence and nature of god. In a chapter from The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Robert Greg Cavin outlines still more hidden assumptions in the standard resurrection story of Jesus, which is not just revivification, but has to do with Jesus being raised as a living supernatural body sometime after his death.
At one point in the episode, Dr. Habermas refers to the resurrection allegedly supported by the minimal facts as “mundane,” saying that the gospels depict the postmortem appearances as if seeing a dead friend at the supermarket, acting as normal. Yet the point by Cavin above reveals this to be naive. A mundane resurrection in that sense would be as easily dismissed as any incident of a grieving loved one hallucinating their dearly departed. There is nothing especially impressive about it. The minimal facts are where many apologists say that the resurrection differs from other allegations of resuscitation or revivification of a corpse. If the transformation of the disciples is a stand out feature of the resurrection story, it would seem to play a part in discounting the mundane nature of events as Habermas portrays it. After all, we’re often told, people might see the dead after they’re gone, but they generally don’t go to be martyred for them. If this famous image of the disciples valiantly accepting death having seen the risen lord is as true as apologists claim it is, then the resurrection simply can’t be a mundane occurrence by their own reasoning.
Does this not also say something about the exceptional kind of assumptions that are required to make a minimal facts case for the resurrection function at all? We are not talking about spotting someone in the supermarket, alive and apparently well when they’d been dead the day before. We are talking about something much less “mundane,” and it’s the reason why the case for the resurrection has been turned into an argument for the existence of god by an apologist like William Lane Craig. There is an element of the supernatural, a “worldview aspect,” as Habermas called it. It isn’t simply that Jesus appeared again to his followers, like in a daydream, it’s that he miraculously rose from the dead, in a way that his followers took as a vindication of their ideas about his teachings and his identity. It meant, for them, that god not only existed, but that he was the god represented by Jesus, and Jesus was the sort of person god not only had the power to raise back to life, but wanted to raise, did raise, and had the power and will to raise into something more than just a reanimated earthly form.
The miracle of the resurrection is the saving grace of many Christians. To Paul it gave hope for a life beyond death and for a righting of the wrongs faced in this life. Entertaining the historicity of the resurrection without the supernatural and metaphysical assumptions behind it is practically unimaginable, not only for atheists and skeptics but for believing Christians, too. This brings us to the awkward position of either asking each other to buy into our philosophical presuppositions, or leaving things at a set of bare minimal facts that is by itself incapable of showing anything except what it already contains. The minimal facts are, one might say, minimally interesting. Even if we put aside the troubling concerns with the methodology that undergirds them, they aren’t what’s really doing the work in winning minds. Rather than minimizing background assumptions and asking us to buy into some ample facts, the apologetic case for the resurrection minimizes the facts and asks us to buy into some ample assumptions.

bookmark_borderJerry Coyne on Atheists Criticizing Other Atheists

On his website, Jerry Coyne yesterday wrote a blog post with the provocative question, “Why Do Many Atheists Hate the New Atheists?” The blog post seems to be the result of a book-length attack on the new atheists by C.J. Werleman (link).
Now I haven’t read Werleman’s book or, for that matter, many other critiques of the new atheists by fellow atheists. What I found interesting was Coyne’s summary of atheistic critiques of the new atheists:

The critique of New Atheists by other atheists seems to consist largely ofad hominem accusations, distortions of what they’ve said (Sam Harris is particularly subject to this), and, most of all, complaints that they dare criticize religion publicly. 

Maybe this is true of some or even many of the atheist critiques of the new atheists, but it isn’t true of all of them. And, for the record, I have no problem whatsoever with criticizing religion publicly.
Coyne’s list of characteristics of atheist critiques of the new atheists isn’t complete, however. He does not mention another element of atheist critiques of the new atheists. This element, made primarily by atheist philosophers, is that some / many / all of their arguments against theism are philosophically weak. 
For example, philosopher (and atheist) Erik Wielenberg devoted an entire article in a peer-reviewed philosophical journal to the central argument of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. Wielenberg calls that argument “Dawkins’s Gambit.” In that article, an article which Dawkins has so far ignored, Wielenberg shows decisively that Dawkins’ argument is simply irrelevant to what Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe.

The central weakness of Dawkins’s Gambit, then, is that it is aimed primarily at proving the nonexistence of a being that is unlike the God of traditional monotheism in some important ways. There are various versions of what Dawkins calls “the God Hypothesis,” and his argument is ineffective against some of them. To see this point more clearly, we may distinguish these two versions of the God Hypothesis:
(GH1)There exists a contingent, physical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.
(GH2)There exists a necessary, nonphysical, complex, superhuman, supernatural intelligence that created the universe and has no external explanation.
Dawkins’s argument may be effective against (GH1), but no clear-thinking Jew, Christian, or Muslim accepts that thesis. (GH2) is much closer to traditional monotheism than is (GH1), but Dawkins’s Gambit is ineffective against (GH2). In light of this, I must side with those critics of The God Delusion who have judged Dawkins’s Gambit to be a failure. (118)

Wielenberg is aware of the Courtier’s Reply, which Dawkins endorses. Towards the end of the article Wielenberg offers a critique which I take to be devastating to the Courtier’s Reply.

… As this excerpt should make clear, the courtier’s reply is intended as a response to those who criticize The God Delusion on the grounds that it fails to engage with sophisticated work in theology. The essence of the reply is that since theology deals primarily with a nonexistent entity (God), there is no need for Dawkins to engage with such material.
The reply does nothing to blunt the criticisms offered in this paper. A central element of my critique is that Dawkins’s Gambit provides no reason at all to doubt some of the most widely-held versions of the target of his attack, the God Hypothesis. I do not know exactly how much theology one needs to know to disprove the existence of God, but one needs to know at least enough theology to understand the various widely-held conceptions of God. In general, in order to argue effectively against a given hypothesis, one needs to know enough to characterize that hypothesis accurately. Furthermore, if one intends to disprove God’s existence, it is hardly reasonable to dismiss criticisms of one’s putative disproof on the grounds that God doesn’t exist anyway.
Thus, the central atheistic argument of The God Delusion is unconvincing, and the courtier’s reply cannot save it. However, Hume’s critique of monotheism is not so easily blunted in that the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion contains challenges to all three versions of the God Hypothesis identified in this paper. Therefore, atheists who wish to press the case against the God Hypothesis ought to look to Hume rather than Dawkins, and theists who wish to defend the God Hypothesis ought not to rest content with critiquing Dawkins’s Gambit. Parties on both sides of the debate should engage with the best the other side has to offer, and Hume is the more worthy model for atheists and the more challenging opponent for theists. He may be gone, but his aroma lingers on. (127, boldface mine)

Let’s return to Jerry Coyne’s post. Skipping ahead a few paragraphs, he writes:

The attacks by atheists on New Atheists stand in strong contrast with how religionists act when they disagree. Christians, for instance, don’t spend lots of their time attacking the character and arguments of other Christians like William Lane Craig or Pat Robertson. Yes, I know that there is some criticism along those lines. But I can’t think of a Christian or a Muslim who makes their living writing article after article criticizing individual coreligionists. Nor, do I think, do believers try to damage other believers by consistently misrepresenting their positions or questioning their characters. When they do engage in such criticism, they’re usually straightforward about their disagreements, not prone to distortion, and are rarely snarky.

Again, I haven’t read Werleman or (I think) the other atheist critics Coyne probably has in mind, but, again, I don’t think Coyne is fairly representing all critics of the new atheists. Erik Wielenberg does not “make his living writing article after article criticizing individual atheists.” Nor does he “try to damage other atheists by consistently misrepresenting their positions or questioning their characters.” His article is straightforward, does not distort Dawkins’ argument, and is not snarky at all.
So, to sum up, Coyne may well be correct in his characterization of some, many, or even most (?) of the atheist critics of the new atheists. But other critics, like philosopher Erik Wielenberg, cannot be so easily dismissed. The new atheists have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from honest, fair-minded interaction with such critics.

bookmark_borderOn Caring about Whether Other People Become Naturalists

Relatively speaking, I don’t care much if someone becomes a naturalist. I care more about refuting an anti-atheist stereotype, intentionally or unintentionally reinforced by Craig and his ilk, which Randal Rauser calls the Rebellion Thesis. I’ve encountered far too many Christians who think atheists are stupid (when it comes to evaluating the evidence about God) and immoral.

Going beyond religion, I guess I also care more broadly about critical thinking skills and the fact that so many people don’t have evidence-based beliefs for things for which evidence is clearly relevant, things which often have a public policy impact.

I think things would be much better if theists were Swinburnian theists and atheists were Draperian atheists, but that’s obviously never going to happen.

Allow me to explain. Following Ralph Keeney in his 1992 book Value-Based Decision Making, I distinguish between fundamental and means objectives. The objective “Convince more people to become naturalists” is not one of my fundamental objectives, whereas “Convincing more people to share beliefs which I think are true” is one of my fundamental objectives. “Convincing more people to hold evidence-based beliefs about things for which evidence is clearly relevant,” is a child fundamental objective of that. And “Convincing more people to become naturalists” is a means objective in support of that child fundamental objective.

I should mention that the objectives hierarchy I just described is tentative. While I have spent a lot of time studying, thinking about, and even working professionally in decision theory, I have actually never spent much time structuring an objectives hierarchy relating to the philosophy of religion and counter-apologetics. In other words, I’m open to revising this hierarchy in light of any feedback.

For a concise overview of Keeney’s excellent approach to decision-making, I highly recommend this article.

bookmark_borderDarwin the Philosopher

I have noted several unfortunate statements by scientists, some of whom I deeply respect, expressing disdain for philosophy. Their view, apparently, is that if you have science you have no need for philosophy. This attitude is doubly unfortunate. First, it betrays considerable ignorance, and, second, when scientists reject philosophy, they really, really should avoid philosophical questions, like the existence of God, because they say embarrassing things that a bit of philosophical insight would have spared them.
Really, though, scientists themselves often resort to arguments that are philosophical in nature. Here is an imagined exchange I saw recently (maybe here at Secular Outpost) that bears repeating:
Scientist: What is the point of philosophy?
Philosopher: What is the point of science?
Scientist: Well, the point of science is…
Philosopher: …And you are now doing philosophy!
I think this little dialogue nails it, but it might help to note a more extended example of an outstanding scientist who also employed philosophical arguments in one of the most famous of all works of science. Here is an extended quote from Chapter Seven of my book It Started with Copernicus, Prometheus Books, 2014:
In The Origin of Species, Darwin frequently addresses philosophical as well as scientific questions. For instance, as we noted in Chapter Two, he devotes considerable space to examining the hypothesis of special creation as a theory competing with natural selection. He realizes that special creation is, of course, more than just a purportedly scientific claim, and impinges on deep philosophical and religious commitments. In addressing special creation, therefore, Darwin often speaks the language of philosophy and even theology. Darwin’s remarkably comprehensive intellect, his background that encompassed both theology and natural science, and his sensitivity to cultural context, made him a particularly qualified commentator on the relation between science and religion.
Darwin addresses the nature of design hypotheses, showing why they are perennially problematic within science. By noting numerous examples, Darwin shows that design arguments raise particular problems for scientific explanation. It is not simply that natural selection provides a physical modus operandi and design hypotheses do not. Darwin does not beg the question in favor of materialism. Rather, as Darwin repeatedly shows, design hypotheses are so exiguous in content that they fail in the most basic task of scientific explanation, viz., providing some new piece of information that tells us why the phenomenon was to be expected.
On the other hand, if design hypotheses are given content, as by invoking a benevolent creator, then they raise the perennially thorny problem of how natural evil can be reconciled with the existence of a provident creator. Darwin would sometimes play the role of “Devil’s chaplain” by noting some natural facts that seem to us particularly horrifying or repugnant, like wasps that lay their eggs in the paralyzed, but living, bodies of caterpillars, so that the wasp larvae can slowly devour them from inside. Darwin notes that such survival strategies are expected if living things evolved by an unthinking, unplanned, amoral process like natural selection. However, they are deeply problematic if we see all of nature as the product of an intelligent and benevolent creator. Another problem with intelligent design hypotheses is that many alleged designs look unintelligent. Organisms often solve problems with anatomical or behavioral features that do the job, but hardly with ideal efficiency. This is understandable if such features are the result of a blind watchmaker—natural selection—but hard to explain as a product of a creator with superhuman intelligence and power. When some replied that God might have a good reason for permitting such apparent instances of bad design, Darwin replied that if we hypothesize that God planned things, but then the “plan” we allege looks no different from no plan at all, then the hypothesis is vacuous. This is an astute philosophical observation.
Philosophical differences also divided Darwin from some of his scientific critics such as Richard Owen. As noted in Chapter Two, Owen coined the term “homology” to designate deep structural similarities in anatomical features that are superficially very different. A bat’s wing, a human hand, a bear’s paw, and the flipper of a porpoise look very different and have very different uses. However, when we look at the underlying skeletal structure, we see that these structures match very closely. Darwin adduced homologies as strong evidence for evolution. Shared structure is evidence of descent with modification from a common ancestor. Owen, however, was a biological Platonist who held that individual organisms reflect an ideal archetype. Hence, for Owen, homologies are not evidence of a common ancestry, but show that many different species have been created according to the same plan.
The difference between Darwin and Owen on homologies therefore could not be settled by a straightforward appeal to evidence. Each recognized the evidence but claimed it for his theory. The fundamental difference between Owen and Darwin was not scientific but philosophical and chiefly concerned the kind of explanations that should be invoked by scientific theories. Like practically all current scientists, Darwin was committed to the sort of methodological naturalism discussed in Chapter Three. Only physical causes are admissible in scientific explanations, and appeal to transcendent objects, like archetypes was ruled out. Again, what constitutes an acceptable scientific explanation is not a scientific but a philosophical question.
In cases like this, where the evidence will not settle the dispute, scientists must employ philosophical arguments. And they do. Therefore, the suggestion that science can simply replace philosophy is wrong for the reason that, as [Thomas] Kuhn observed, scientific debates often embed—or are embedded within—philosophical debates. These philosophical differences often cannot be settled by straightforward empirical means, but must be addressed with philosophical argument. Science cannot replace philosophy because philosophy is an essential part of the scientific enterprise. Kuhn was wrong about many things, but on this point he was absolutely right.

bookmark_borderOpen Letter to (and Standing Debate Invitation for) William Lane Craig

It’s been almost twenty years to the day since we first exchanged letters about the transcript of your debate with Corey Washington. I enjoyed the two opportunities I had to spend time with you and your wife, Jan, once in Colorado and once in Atlanta. In September 2000, you agreed that a debate between us would be valuable. In the almost 15 years which have passed since then, many different debate organizers have tried to arrange a debate between us, but it never seems to work out. I’m writing to see if we can, finally, debate some of the best arguments for and against theism and naturalism.
I’m aware of your policy that you debate only people with a Ph.D. I am also aware that you’ve made exceptions over the years, including exceptions for Frank Zindler, Edward Tabash, Ron Barrier, John Shelby Spong, and Christopher Hitchens. I’m asking you to make another exception for me and to honor your September 2000 commitment.
I’m told the reason for your PhD-only policy is to avoid a “circus-like” atmosphere at your debates. If past behavior gives us any indication of future behavior, then I think you don’t need to worry about a circus-like atmosphere at our debate. I know that you’ve seen at least part of my debate with Phil Fernandes, since you responded to my objections to the kalam cosmological argument on your October 8, 2009 podcast. I’ve also written a critique of your arguments for the empty tomb, a critique which Craig Blomberg praised for its tone and which Stephen Davis called the best essay in my anthology, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the GraveI know you’re familiar with that critique, since your Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology contains a critique of the relocation hypothesis, my naturalistic explanation I give for the empty tomb. I recently presented an essay which critiques the major premise of your moral argument, namely, that God is needed for ontologically objective moral values. Finally, my evidential case for naturalism was recently included by Randal Rauser in his book, Is the Atheist My Neighbor?as a case study of how an atheist can have an impressive case for atheism without being angry at God. I think those four examples demonstrate I am professional, respectful, and well-informed about your arguments.
So I’d like to renew my September 2000 invitation for a debate with you at a major college campus. I’m interested in debating either the existence of God, especially your five traditional arguments for God, or morality with/without God. Due to family commitments, I propose either fall 2017 or spring 2018.
Jeffery Jay Lowder
President Emeritus
Internet Infidels, Inc.

  • Keith Augustine, M.A., Internet Infidels, Inc.
  • Dan Barker, Freedom From Religion Foundation
  • Russell Blackford, Ph.D.
  • Ed Buckner, Ph.D.
  • Richard Carrier, Ph.D.
  • Robert Greg Cavin, Ph.D.
  • Carlos Colombetti, Ph.D.
  • Matt Dillahunty, The Atheist Experience
  • Theodore Drange, Ph.D.
  • Paul Draper, Ph.D.* (see note below)
  • Taner Edis, Ph.D.
  • Evan Fales, Ph.D.
  • Matt De Stefano, Ph.D. candidate (philosophy, University of Arizona)
  • Charles Foster, Ph.D. (see here)
  • Paul Kurtz, Ph.D.
  • Stephen Law, Ph.D.
  • Felipe Leon, Ph.D.
  • Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist
  • Wes Morriston, Ph.D.
  • Graham Oppy, Ph.D.
  • Keith Parsons, Ph.D.
  • Robert M. Price, Ph.D.
  • Randal Rauser, Ph.D.
  • Victor Reppert, Ph.D.
  • Edward Tabash, J.D.
  • Jason Thibodeau, Ph.D.
  • Andrea Weisberger, Ph.D.
  • Erik Wielenberg, Ph.D.
  • Tyler Wunder, Ph.D.

* Paul Draper wrote: “I don’t endorse debates about serious philosophical issues like the existence of God, but I do believe that Jeff Lowder is qualified to debate Bill Craig.  In fact, he is better qualified than some professional philosophers who have debated him.”
ETA on 13-Sep-15: Dale Tuggy, Ph.D. also just offered his unsolicited endorsement for this debate. LINK