The Cosmological argument for the existence of God has been around for millennia, and is still much debated. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig has used various versions of it for years in debates with atheists, generally very successfully.
So when an agnostic cosmologist with an interest in philosophy examines it, we are sure to learn something useful.
Luke Barnes, William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll
I am a great fan of Aussie cosmologist Luke Barnes and his blog Letters to Nature. As a post-doctoral researcher in astrophysics with several refereed and published papers, Luke’s expertise cannot be doubted. And as an open-minded agnostic about God (as far as I can tell), Luke attacks bad science and bad arguments from christian and atheist alike.
Recently he has written 3 posts reviewing the likely arguments in an upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and atheist cosmologist Sean Carroll. Luke clearly has respect for both men, and sees Craig as a philosopher very well informed on cosmology, while Carroll is a cosmologist who has also studied philosophy.
The third post, Carroll vs. Craig (3): On Contingency (which provides links to the other two posts) is an excellent discussion of the issues and arguments both debaters will need to contend with.
The argument from contingency
The argument from contingency takes the following form:
- Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
- The universe exists.
- Therefore God exists.
The argument is logically valid, so its success depends on how well the first two premises can be supported.
Don’t jump in too quickly
Many atheists object to the first two premises without giving enough consideration to the supporting arguments. Luke doesn’t fall into that trap, and recognises that the supporting arguments are strong, and outlines why. Premise 1 is often called “The Principle of Sufficient Reason” and would be accepted in most other situations. Premise 2 is based upon arguments that atheists themselves use.
He then considers how Sean Carroll might respond. Based on things he has written previously, Luke believes Carroll might argue, against premise 1, that all chains of explanation must stop somewhere, and so he may argue that the universe and its laws require no further explanation.
He suggests that this is “one mother of a philosophical claim”, and his discussion illustrates why this claim may be hard to sustain. But at the same time, Craig still has to establish why we should trust the Principle of Sufficient Reason when applied to the universe and God.
Check it out and decide for yourself
I won’t give any more details, but encourage you to check it out for yourself – it is well worthwhile.
I am obviously biased, but I thought that his discussion showed very clearly that the atheist has much the harder task in this debate. (I also agreed with the inference that an atheist’s best bet is in effect to accept that he or she will come off second best in this debate, and needs to raise the problem of evil to make a reasonable case.)
I’d be interested to hear what any readers think of the discussion.
Read a more detailed discussion of two versions of the Cosmological argument.
Picture: NASA. Note: the Crab Nebula is not really relevant to the Big Bang. It was a star about 10 times the mass of our sun, that exploded about 7,500 years ago, though we only saw it on earth about 1000 years ago. But we don’t have any photos of the Big Bang, whereas this photo looks attractive and interesting.