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.