FactChecking Mike D on Kalam

Self-​​proclaimed apos­tate and per­sonal trainer Mike D cri­tiques the argu­ments Dr. William Lane Craig used in a debate with noted jour­nal­ist Christo­pher Hitchens not long ago. How­ever Mike D’s blog reflects igno­rance of the depth of Craig’s schol­arly research in sev­eral areas and a gen­eral atti­tude of dog­ma­tism. Today I am inter­ested in cor­rect­ing this par­tic­u­lar post’s pos­ture toward Craig’s Kalam Cos­mo­log­i­cal Argument.

Craig’s for­mu­la­tion of the cos­mo­log­i­cal argu­ment goes like this:

1. Every­thing that begins to exist has a cause.
2. The uni­verse began to exist.
3. There­fore the uni­verse has a cause.

Mike D’s first objec­tion is a rebut­ting defeater of the sec­ond premise, his sec­ond objec­tion is sim­ply a mis­un­der­stand­ing of the con­clu­sion, and his third objec­tion is a very unclear rebut­ting defeater of the first premise. He never dis­putes the valid­ity of the logic.

He first argues that the uni­verse could exist in “a state in which time [func­tions] non-​​linearly as another dimen­sion of space, negat­ing… prob­lems with infi­nite regres­sions of time”. Some­thing like Mike D’s posi­tion was orig­i­nally advanced by John McTag­gart Ellis McTag­gart (yes, that’s his real name) in his famous 1908 arti­cle in Mind, “The Unre­al­ity of Time”, as “B-​​series” time. This view of time would see any begin­ning of the uni­verse like the begin­ning of a yard stick, whose length is tense­less. Most laypeo­ple how­ever, are unknow­ing believ­ers in what McTag­gart called “A-​​series” time, and pas­sively inter­pret their expe­ri­ence of tensed time as real.

Craig is aware that his view pre­sup­poses A-​​series time. In fact, he has done exten­sive schol­arly work, much of which is avail­able online, in under­cut­ting the B-​​series view and advanc­ing an A-​​series view (includ­ing a full book-​​length treat­ment of each). The qual­ity of his research is reflected by the fact that he was invited to pre­side over the Phi­los­o­phy of Time Soci­ety from 1999–2006. To sim­ply point out the well-​​known fact that there is a view of time which would pre­clude Craig’s argu­ment, and then declare Craig wrong with­out any fur­ther com­ment on the mat­ter, is both igno­rant and dog­matic [1][2].

Mr. D’s sec­ond “objec­tion” is sim­ply a mis­un­der­stand­ing of what it is that the argu­ment is try­ing to prove. Accord­ing to Mike D, the “sec­ond prob­lem… is that [Craig’s] argu­ment fails to answer why, even if a first cause is nec­es­sary, it must be ‘God’” [3]. Here Mr. D mis­un­der­stands the claim made by the argu­ment, which is only that the uni­verse has a cause, not that the cause is God. Inci­den­tally, Craig is always pre­pared with other argu­ments on hand that build on his kalam by attempt­ing to recover from it cer­tain attrib­utes that must be true of a uni­ver­sal cause [4].

Why didn’t Craig go into finer tech­ni­cal detail about these issues? Because Hitchens has no for­mal train­ing in either sci­ence or phi­los­o­phy, and demon­strated a pro­found igno­rance of the tech­ni­cal issues that have bear­ing on the dis­cus­sion. In fact, Craig is often frus­trated at just how shal­low his debates are, because his inter­locu­tors rarely bring up any meaty objec­tions at all (as was most cer­tainly the case with Hitchens, whom Craig “spanked… like a fool­ish child”, accord­ing to the infa­mous “Com­mon Sense Athe­ism” post on the debate).

Mr. D’s final objec­tion is unclear, but I think that it may be under­stood as a rebut­ting defeater of the first premise (though parts of it seem to assume he is right about the sec­ond premise being false). In it he ini­tially asserts that causal­ity requires space and lin­ear time. Yet he pro­vides no argu­ment what­so­ever for his meta­phys­i­cal dogma. Are we to take it on faith?

Next, while his first objec­tion defended a view of time which is non-​​linear, this final objec­tion claims that ‘lin­ear’ time is needed for causal­ity to occur. Are we to take it then that Mr. D denies the real­ity of causal­ity entirely?

After this he says that if the uni­verse were caused, we would all actu­ally be igno­rant of how causal­ity works out­side of the uni­verse. But if that’s the case, how does ‘he’ know that causal­ity requires things pre­cluded by Craig’s view?

Mr. D says it’s a “fal­lacy then to talk about a time ‘before’ the uni­verse”, but Craig does no such thing. His view is that “with­out” (not “before”) the uni­verse, God is time­less. And on this mat­ter too, Craig has writ­ten exten­sively at the schol­arly level, includ­ing a book-​​length treat­ment and dozens of arti­cles, many of which are avail­able online. Should Mr. D ever read any of them, he may remain in dis­agree­ment, but his post reflects only igno­rance of Craig’s research.

An hon­est piece describ­ing the thoughts of an arm­chair philoso­pher in process would be one thing, but Mr. D’s post is packed with dog­matic rhetoric and scathing dis­missals of a man whose peers regard him as eas­ily falling within the top 1 per­cent of prac­tic­ing philoso­phers in the West­ern world.

11 thoughts on “FactChecking Mike D on Kalam

  1. Chris

    I really appre­ci­ated this post.

    I stum­bled across Mr. D’s post some­how, and imme­di­ately knew some­thing was off. I didn’t know how to artic­u­late my thoughts, but cer­tainly my new­ness to phi­los­o­phy did not dam­age my “intuition.”

    I won­der why Mike didn’t pay par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to Craig’s inten­tions and what his argu­ment was was say­ing. He seemed quite caught up in its impli­ca­tions, but those impli­ca­tions whether true or false, are beside the point. This is espe­cially true if we observe the logic of the premises and the state­ment as a whole.

    Thank you for your thoughts. If I have got­ten any of that wrong, or if I am in need of cor­rec­tion, in capac­ity, please let me know.

  2. Louis Swingrover

    In that post he says:

    The kind of causal­ity we observe is not the same thing as “some­thing out of noth­ing”, and it’s an induc­tive fal­lacy to use observ­able mate­r­ial causal­ity to make infer­ences about spec­u­la­tive, unfal­si­fi­able super­nat­ural phenomena.”

    There are two issues here. The first is that Craig is try­ing infer that some­thing is true of one type of causal­ity (cre­ation out of noth­ing) based on what is true of anther type of causal­ity (cause and effect within a closed sys­tem). The other issue is that Craig is using empir­i­cal evi­dence to make an induction.

    Regard­ing the first issue: for one, Mr. Apos­tate fails to rec­og­nize another of Craig’s other book-​​length treat­ments (not only has he writ­ten a book under­cut­ting B the­ory, one sup­port­ing A the­ory, one elab­o­rat­ing on God’s rela­tion­ship to time, and num­ber books and arti­cles treat­ing all of these other tech­ni­cal sci­en­tific and philo­soph­i­cal issues that Mike D raises, but he ded­i­cated an entire vol­ume to cre­ation ex nihilo as well)! Once again, this blog­ger might dis­agree with Craig, should he ever read him, but he is only treat­ing lit­tle clips in pop­u­lar level rhetoric, rather than Craig’s rich schol­arly work. And he does so with an atti­tude as if Craig’s views are obvi­ously false and ill-​​supported in the literature.

    Now, briefly on the mat­ter itself. If noth­ing­ness is so impo­tent as to fail to ever bring about effects from pre-​​existing mat­ter, how much far­ther beyond its power would it be to bring about effects from noth­ing at all! I think point­ing out the fact that Craig’s list of effects only includes those brought about by the use of pre-​​existing mate­r­ial only draws atten­tion to the prob­lem that the athe­ist has to face. The athe­ist has to some­how account not just for the ini­ti­a­tion of the Big Bang (the effi­cient cause), but also for the exis­tence of the mat­ter that banged (the mate­r­ial cause)!

    Now con­cern­ing the mat­ter of induc­tion. Craig doesn’t claim that the first premise can be proved, but only that it is more plau­si­ble than its nega­tion. He is aware that his argu­ment is induc­tive, and point­ing it out doesn’t rebut it. In fact, sci­ence itself is fun­da­men­tally empir­i­cal and induc­tive. If Mike D wants to be sci­en­tific and to go where the evi­dence leads, he must either accept the the­ory of causal­ity or else pro­vide a coun­terex­am­ple to it.

  3. Pingback: More Work on Premise 1 of the Kalam

  4. RabbitMan

    whose peers regard him as eas­ily falling within the top 1 per­cent of prac­tic­ing philoso­phers in the West­ern world.”

    Can you please cite you source for the above assertion?

    @Louis

    Your third para­graph is not an argu­ment, you only point out that Craig has given a book length treat­ment of a prob­lem as if that some­how refutes Mike D. Also, why do you imply Mike D hasn’t read Craig? (You wrote ” Once again, this blog­ger might dis­agree with Craig, should he ever read him”)

    The athe­ist has to some­how account not just for the ini­ti­a­tion of the Big Bang (the effi­cient cause), but also for the exis­tence of the mat­ter that banged (the mate­r­ial cause)!”

    Are you seri­ous? An athe­ist (posi­tion regard­ing a deity) has to account for some things in cos­mol­ogy? Why? Why not the­ist also?

    ” If Mike D wants to be sci­en­tific and to go where the evi­dence leads, he must either accept the the­ory of causal­ity or else pro­vide a coun­terex­am­ple to it.”

    Do you even under­stand Mike D? Obvi­ously you don’t. He never denies causal­ity. Also, most of what you wrote doesn’t even directly address what Mike D wrote.

  5. Louis Swingrover Post author

    Can you please cite you source for the above assertion?”

    Sure.

    It is hard to over­state the impact that William Lane Craig has had for the cause of Christ. He is sim­ply the finest Chris­t­ian apol­o­gist of the last half cen­tury and his aca­d­e­mic work jus­ti­fies rank­ing him among the top 1 per­cent of prac­tic­ing philoso­phers in the West­ern world. Besides that, he is a win­some ambas­sador for Christ, an excep­tional debater, and a man with the heart of an evan­ge­list. I know him well and can say that he lives a life of integrity and lives out what he believes. I do not know of a sin­gle thinker who has done more to raise the bar of Chris­t­ian schol­ar­ship in our gen­er­a­tion than Craig. He is one of a kind and I thank God for his life and work.”

    -J. P. More­land, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Phi­los­o­phy, Tal­bot School of Theology

    Also see: Larry Moran asks: “Do philoso­phers take William Lane Craig’s argu­ments seri­ously?”.

    Your third para­graph is not an argu­ment, you only point out that Craig has given a book length treat­ment of a prob­lem as if that some­how refutes Mike D.”

    Mike D points out that the Kalam relies on an A-​​theory of time and then dis­misses it on those grounds. Yet that the Kalam’s sound­ness is con­tin­gent on A-​​theory is read­ily admit­ted by Craig, who does not pre­sume A-​​theory, but argues for it at length.

    Also, why do you imply Mike D hasn’t read Craig?”

    He may have, but his post cer­tainly doesn’t reflect famil­iar­ity with Craig’s schol­arly mate­r­ial (only with his debates).

    [“The athe­ist has to some­how account not just for the ini­ti­a­tion of the Big Bang (the effi­cient cause), but also for the exis­tence of the mat­ter that banged (the mate­r­ial cause)!”]

    Are you seri­ous? An athe­ist (posi­tion regard­ing a deity) has to account for some things in cos­mol­ogy? Why? Why not the­ist also?”

    The issue here is that one of Craig’s argu­ments in sup­port of premise 1 of the Kalam (he offers sev­eral oth­ers which Mike D leaves unad­dressed) uti­lizes every day, observ­able causal rela­tions. There is more to the argu­ment, but Craig does bring up sev­eral instances of causal­ity in the course of mak­ing his argu­ment. After first dis­miss­ing induc­tion (which, I point out, is silly–although as a side note I’ve since come to under­stand Craig’s argu­ment as not being induc­tive at all, but never mind), Mike D objects by say­ing that these exam­ples are cases of causal­ity out of some­thing, and not causal­ity out of noth­ing. But that fact, far from under­cut­ting the first premise, would actu­ally strengthen it! For if effects that arise out of some­thing all require causes, how much more would effects that arise out of noth­ing at all! Not only would the change in form imply a cause, but the com­ing into being of the mat­ter itself would imply a cause.

    You ask why the the­ist does not also have to account for the ini­ti­a­tion of the Big Bang (the effi­cient cause) and the exis­tence of the mat­ter that banged (the mate­r­ial cause). But that’s just it: the pro­po­nent of the Kalam takes the absolute begin­ning of the uni­verse to imply the­ism! So the the­ist does account for these things–he takes God to be the cause of the begin­ning of the universe.

  6. RabbitMan

    Louis, thanks for your reply. I’m curi­ous is the other “Louis” (with no sur­name) and you the same person?

    J.P. More­land basi­cally says the same thing as you but doesn’t sub­stan­ti­ate it either, he only says “his aca­d­e­mic work jus­ti­fies rank­ing him among the top 1 per­cent of prac­tic­ing philoso­phers in the West­ern world.” It may be that his Chris­t­ian *col­leagues* believe he should be ranked among the top but not his philo­soph­i­cal peers and this brinks up Larry Moran which you pro­vide a link for. I don’t dis­pute that his argu­ments are taken seri­ous (for instance Gra­ham Oppy and oth­ers do) but do his peers believe he’s at the top? Most pro­fes­sional philoso­phers don’t even agree with him and if you look at the com­ments sec­tion of Larry Moran blog some­one pro­vides this link http://​philpa​pers​.org/​s​u​r​v​e​y​s​/​r​e​s​u​l​t​s​.pl
    you’ll notice most pro­fes­sional philoso­phers are athe­ist or lean towards it. Also, most accept B-​​theory of time over A-​​theory. A poll a few years ago ranked the great­est philoso­phers of the last 200 years and Craig was nowhere to be found in the top 40 (if you can find the full list I would appre­ci­ate it).

    Thanks for explain­ing your third paragraph.

    He may have, but his post cer­tainly doesn’t reflect famil­iar­ity with Craig’s schol­arly mate­r­ial (only with his debates).”

    I don’t know how famil­iar he is with his schol­arly mate­r­ial but he does quote his books and other works, not only debates, over at his blog.

    I get back with the last part after the weekend.

  7. Louis Swingrover Post author

    As far as I know, I am the only Louis com­ment­ing on this site. :)

    Given his cre­den­tials, I con­sider More­land Craig’s peer. So there is at least one of Craig’s peers who con­sid­ers Craig to be among the top 1 per­cent of prac­tic­ing philoso­phers in the West­ern world.

  8. RabbitMan

    Given his cre­den­tials, I con­sider More­land Craig’s peer.”

    Fair enough.

    Now to the last part of your reply dated Oct 11.

    the pro­po­nent of the Kalam takes the absolute begin­ning of the uni­verse to imply the­ism. So the the­ist does account for these things–he takes God to be the cause of the begin­ning of the universe”.

    Isn’t that a non sequitur? That is why Craig employs con­cep­tual analy­sis oth­er­wise the Kalam only estab­lishes the uni­verse had a cause (and no doubt is infe­rior to any­thing cos­mol­ogy tells us).

  9. Louis Swingrover

    the Kalam only estab­lishes the uni­verse had a cause”

    I agree to this much. I would add that I per­son­ally judge Craig’s typ­i­cal fol­lowup argu­ments for the mass­less­ness, time­less­ness sans cre­ation, power, intel­li­gence, and agency of the cause to be sound and that there is even more that may be inferred about the cause of the uni­verse from other sources.

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