bookmark_borderAn Experiment in ‘Steelmanning’: Let’s Try to Formulate a Good Argument from Cosmology Against Naturalism

In the spirit of my last post, I think it would be interesting to engage in some inquiry about whether the kalam cosmological argument is onto something. Rather than try to repair the kalam cosmological argument as it stands, I think it would be interesting to channel Richard Swinburne or Paul Draper and see if there is a good F-inductive argument against naturalism based on known facts in cosmology.
Here’s a quick refresher on notation:
Pr(x): the epistemic probability of any proposition x
Pr(x | y): the epistemic probability of any proposition x conditional upon y
Pr(|x|): the intrinsic probability of any proposition x
“>!”: “is much more probable than”
“>!!”: “is much, much more probable than”
B: background information
T: theism
N: naturalism
E: The expansion of our universe had a beginning.
Here is the relevant background information:
B1. Our universe exists.
B2. Our universe is expanding.
And here is the F-inductive argument:
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. N is not intrinsically much more probable than T, i.e., Pr(|N|) is not much greater than Pr(|T|).
3. Pr(E | T & B) >! Pr(E | N & B).
4. Other evidence held equal, N is very probably false, i.e., Pr(N | B & E) !< 0.5.
Notice that this arguments includes in the background information (B1) the fact that our universe exists. By itself, B1 is evidence favoring naturalism over theism. This argument–and premise (3) in particular–says, “Given that our universe exists and is expanding, the fact that its expansion had a beginning is more favorable on theism than on naturalism.” So this argument starts with the general fact which is the topic of the argument from physicality (our universe exists), and attempts to argue that, given the general fact, a more specific fact about cosmology favors theism over naturalism.
Let’s assume that (1) and (2) are true. Can anyone come up with a good reason or reasons to believe (3)?
Please discuss in the combox.

bookmark_borderHinman’s Opening Argument for God

Joe Hinman has published his opening argument for God on his blog site:
Here is his argument in summary form:

1. All naturalistic phenomena are contingent and temporal.
2. Either some aspect of being is eternal and necessary unless or something came from nothing (creation ex nihilo)
3. Something did not come from nothing.
4. Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary [=GOB]. (from 2,and 3)
5. Some aspect of being does not consist of naturalistic phenomena. (from 1 and 4)
6. Some people experience a sense of the numinous [=SON].
7. The SON is not evoked by any naturalistic phenomena.
8. The SON experienced by some people is evoked by GOB.
9. GOB = God.
10. If 8 and 9, then some people are warranted in believing in God.
11. Therefore, some people are warranted in believing in God. (from 8, 9, and 10)

In future posts I will refer to this as Hinman’s ABEAN argument (some Aspect of Being is Eternal And Necessary).

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_borderSwinburne’s Cosmological and Teleological Arguments – Part 3

I am exploring a concern about, or potential objection to, Swinburne’s inductive cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God. The objection I have in mind is something like this, for the cosmological argument:
Although the one factual premise of Swinburne’s cosmological argument is supposed to be the ONLY contingent factual claim or assumption upon which the conclusion of the argument rests, the argument actually rests on a considerable number and variety of contingent factual claims and assumptions, and this casts some reasonable doubt on the argument.
In order to explore this potential objection in a somewhat systematic way, I have made an outline of the general kinds of objections that are made against arguments. An argument has three basic parts (a premise or premises, an inference, and a conclusion). Thus, there are three basic types of objection:
1. Objection to a premise of the argument (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)
2. Objection to an inference of the argument (illogical, invalid, dubious, weak)

3. Objection to the conclusion of the argument (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)

Since an objection is itself an argument, replies to objections are also objections to an argument, and thus there are at least three types of reply:
1. Objection to a premise of the objection (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)
2. Objection to an inference of the objection (illogical, invalid, dubious, weak)
3. Objection to the conclusion of the objection (false, dubious, unclear, ambiguous, unknowable)
Also, in presenting or developing an argument, one can provide support for any of the three basic parts of an argument: support for a premise, support for an inference, and support for the conclusion. If one gives evidence in support of the truth of the conclusion, however, that amounts to giving another argument or piece of evidence in addition to the original argument.
So, where might contingent factual claims be called up by Swinburne in a discussion about the cosmological argument (TCA)? He might put forward some contingent factual claims in support of the truth of the premise of his argument, or in support of the inference in this argument, or in support of the clarity or knowability of the conclusion of the argument (but not in support of the truth of the conclusion, because that would introduce a whole new argument into the picture).
Like any good philosopher, Swinburne also considers objections to his arguments, so he might put forward some contingent factual claims in response to an objection to the premise of his cosmological argument, or in response to an objection to the inference of his cosmological argument, or in response to an objection to the conclusion of his argument. Here then are the key questions to examine:
1. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to support the premise of TCA?
2. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to support the inference in TCA?
3. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to support the conclusion of TCA (in terms of clarity or knowability)?
4. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to reply to an objection to the premise of TCA?
5. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to reply to an objection to the inference in TCA?
6. Does Swinburne use contingent factual claims/assumptions to reply to an objection to the conclusion of TCA?
If Swinburne does use contingent factual claims for any of these purposes, then this would provide some confirmation of my suspicion about his cosmological and teleological arguments. However, one further question would also need to be answered to fully confirm my suspicion: Is Swinburne’s use of contingent factual claims (other than the one premise of TCA) essential to supporting or defending this argument? or is there some other way to support or defend the point in question without use of contingent factual claims, by using only a priori truths, analytic truths, or tautological truths?

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Cosmological and Teleological Arguments – Part 2

Like many other liberals, I’m delighted and mesmerized by Bridgegate and various other Chris Christie scandals from the fine state of New Jersey. I cannot wait for my daily dose of Rachel Maddow dishing the latest dirt on Christie and his idiotic crowd of corrupt New Jersey hooligans.
What does this have to do with Swinburne’s arguments for God? Well, one neat trick that a couple of Christie’s friends have pulled is to plead the 5th amendment as a legal justification for refusing to turn over documents in accordance with subpoenas from the N.J. legislature. I initially thought it was ridiculous to plead the 5th in relation to providing documents, but a recent Supreme Court case did apply the 5th amendment to the production of documents, and after reading a bit about that case, I see that pleading the 5th makes a good deal of sense in this particular case. The key concepts here are ‘relevance’ and ‘background knowledge’, and these concepts also apply, quite appropriately, to Swinburne’s case for God.
The subpoenas issued by the N.J. legislature basically request documents that are RELEVANT to Bridgegate, relevant to the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge back in September of last year. But judgments of relevance always depend on BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE. Some documents are such that anyone, with common background knowledge could identify the document as being relevant. For example, if an email says “Should we plan the lane closures on the George Washington bridge for early in September?” just about anyone could determine that email to be relevant to the inquiry of the legislature.
But the relevance of some documents might not be so obvious. For example, the famous email from Bridget Anne Kelly, then Christie’s deputy chief of staff, reads: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”. Notice that this email does NOT explicitly reference the George Washington bridge. Nor does it say anything about closing down lanes on a bridge. Someone (i.e. David Wildstein) had some background knowledge about the context of this email, such that the few words in the email are interpreted as being relevant to the lane closures on the George Washington bridge back in September.
Roughly speaking, Wildstein knew that he and Bridget Kelly were part of a criminal conspiracy to create a terrible traffic jam in Fort Lee by shutting down lanes on the George Washington bridge. This background knowledge allowed Wildstein to identify that email as being part of a collection of conversations and discussions and planning sessions in this criminal conspiracy.
In putting forward this specific email as being relevant to the lane closures on the George Washington bridge, Wildstein is revealing some of his own background knowledge, and thus he was, in effect, testifying against himself. It is not just the fact that the contents of the email constitute potential evidence for criminal charges against him, but the very production of this email amounts to him testifying that the email is relevant, which appears to imply that Wildstein has background knowledge of a criminal conspiracy.
In any case, whether or not you agree with my take on the Bridget Kelly email, it is clear that judgments of relevance are based upon one’s background knowledge. The same goes for judgments of significance. These concepts and related principles can be applied to Swinburne’s case for God, and to his inductive Cosmological and Teleological arguments. Each inductive argument for God involves a single factual premise, which Swinburne claims to provide inductive evidence for the existence of God.
My objection or my concern with these arguments (at least the concern I wish to explore here and now) is that in order to properly and correctly understand the meaning, the relevance, and the significance of each of those premises, one must draw on a significant amount of contingent factual background knowledge. If I am correct in this view, then that opens the door to a significant degree of doubt about the correctness and strength of these arguments, because if they actually depend on a larger set of factual assumptions (which might either contain some false or questionable claims, or which might reflect a biased selection from a larger collection of available and relevant factual evidence), then there is clearly a sense that the significance or strength of these arguments is not a purely a priori matter, and is subject to reasonable doubts and challenges.
One thing I admire about Swinburne is that he not only studied philosophy of religion and theology, but he understood the importance of science, especially as a perceived threat to religious belief, and so he also studied philosophy of science and the history of science, and he spent several years thinking about and writing about the philosophy of science prior to building his case for God. In his book, The Existence of God, Swinburne puts his knowledge of science to good use, and this is especially the case with the presentation of his inductive cosmological and teleological arguments.
My concern is that much of the background knowledge that Swinburne brings to bear concerning these arguments are contingent factual assumptions/beliefs, in which case, it appears that it is mistaken or misleading to view these arguments as consisting of just one or two contingent factual claims, as opposed to them being based on a large collection of contingent factual assumptions, some of which might be false or questionable, and which may be the result of a biased selection of such contingent ‘facts’ from a much broader collection of evidence (which may include facts that don’t fit so well with Swinburne’s theism).
Swinburne’s inductive cosmological argument has just one premise (see EOG, p.149):
e. A complex physical universe exists (over a period of time).
And it has a single simple conclusion:
g. God exists.
Swinburne argues that this contingent factual claim is both relevant and significant in relation to the hypothesis that ‘God exists’. These judgments, I believe, are based on Swinburne’s knowledge (and beliefs) about physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, philosophy of science, and history of science. I suspect that there is a great deal of contingent background knowledge (or beliefs) that is being drawn upon not only in the formulation of Swinburne’s own judgment that e is relevant and significant in relation to g, but that in order to argue this point, in order to persuade others of his view on this matter, Swinburne must draw upon a large collection of contingent background knowledge (or beliefs).
It is the degree of complexity of the physical universe that impresses Swinburne, but the expression “a complex physical universe” is somewhat vague. How complex does a universe have to be in order for e to be true? If only a small degree of complexity is required for this expression to be correctly applied, then perhaps the evidence here is of only minor significance or weight. Also, we need to have some way to measure or quantify degree of complexity.
Could the existence of a single electron count as the existence of “a complex physical universe”? That seems a bit too simple to me, but if the behavior or nature of the electron was determined by several laws of physics, perhaps even a single electron could count as “a complex physical universe”. If so, then e would not be very significant, it seems to me, as evidence for theism.
Part of Swinburne’s discussion and defense of his inductive cosmological argument appears to revolve around a possible objection. The objection could be put like this:
It does seem fantastically improbable that complex organisms such as tigers, dolphins, and human beings would spontaneously arise as the result of a chance conglomeration of inorganic matter. But according to the well-established theory of evolution, such complex organisms did not arise in such a manner. Rather, very simple organisms were formed by chance conglomeration of organic compounds, and over billions of years through the process of evolution very complex organisms arose from less complex organisms which in turn arose from very simple original life forms. The complex physical universe that we observe today might also have arisen through a process of development from a much simpler physical universe.
Swinburne thinks this is not just merely a possibility or conjecture; he thinks this is probably the way the present physical universe came to be what it is today:
…all the evidence suggests that the universe evolved from a much simpler state in accord with the laws of nature ensuring that such a universe would develop into a large complex universe. (EOG, p.150)
Knowledge about the process of biological evolution is mostly contingent factual knowledge, not knowledge of tautological truths. This knowledge of biological evolution suggests the possibility that the current complexity of the physical universe might also have arisen through some natural process over a long period of time, and that billions of years ago, the universe might have been much more simple, much less complex, than it is now. But this objection does NOT require contingent factual knowledge. The main idea here is of a concept or a logical possibility: something complex can arise from something much simpler through natural processes. Such an idea or possibility could occur to someone who had no knowledge of the biological process of evolution. Though the well-established theory of evolution gives this idea or possibility some initial plausibility and appeal, the idea can stand on its own, at least as a possibility that needs to be considered, and taken seriously.
However, if we take this idea, this logical possibility, seriously it seems to me that the objection this raises against Swinburne’s cosmological argument can be properly evaluated only in terms of contingent factual background knowledge about: physics, chemistry, biology, evolution, astronomy, cosmology, philosophy of science, and history of science. Furthermore, it seems to me that Swinburne’s response to this objection draws upon his knowledge of physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology, etc. In order to persuade others that his inductive Cosmological argument is significant and can withstand this objection, Swinburne must make use of his considerable stock of contingent scientific knowledge (or beliefs).
To be continued…