Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Cosmological Argument

I was warned that Richard Dawkins' latest book was filled with fallacious complaints and name-calling, and singularly lacking in substantive new critiques or well-reasoned arguments. I have nonetheless been frankly stupefied by Dawkins' sophomoric rhetorical ploys and his utter evasion of the real argument. Though claiming to refute the existence of the supernatural God--and specifically the God of Christianity--he studiously avoids actually interacting with that concept of God. His dismissal of the Cosmological Argument (for God's existence) is a case in point, and one is left wondering whether Dawkins has ever understood its formulation or, having understood it, chooses not to tackle it in a serious way. (Dawkins' refusal to debate scientists and philosophers who disagree with him would suggest the latter, and implies that at some level he recognizes the many weaknesses of his position of choice.)

Dawkins gives a straw-man version of the Cosmological Argument, one which misrepresents Thomas Aquinas' early formulation. (Were his own argument stronger, Dawkins would have been well-advised to accurately address a more modern and rigorous version; his repeated failures in this regard go a long way toward undermining his credibility.) He lumps this argument with two other Thomist arguments--the Unmoved Mover and the Uncaused Cause--and dismisses them thusly...
All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts. is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a 'big bang singularity', or some other physical concept as yet unknown...It is by no means clear that God provides a natural terminator to the regresses of Aquinas.
So, a large part of Dawkins' complaint here is that of a simple child, "If God made the universe, who made God?" This is nothing more than a category fallacy, but one that demonstrates Dawkins' unwillingness to address his 'arguments' to the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Those particular Gods--the ones whose existence Dawkins' book alledgedly refutes--are by definition uncreated (what philosophers call 'necessary') beings. Everyone seriously interested in assessing the arguments for or against God's existence comes to understand the distinction between necessary and contingent things. They recognize that God (whether Yahweh or Allah or the triune God of Christianity) in the issue at hand (that is, regardless of whether He actually exists) is conceived of as a necessary Being. The question is whether the universe is itself necessary or contingent.

There are at least two reasons that--contrary to Dawkins' hand-waving personal assurance--the Cosmological Argument remains an extremely compelling argument for the existence of a transcendent Creator God (like that of the three great monotheisms). First, this conclusion seems logically inescapable. There really are no absolute infinities in the universe (it is at this level that the issue of regresses comes in), and an eternal, necessary being provides the only adequate cause ever proposed. (The question of which monotheistic religion accurately identifies that causal Being is a separate issue.) Dawkins' own alternative, "a 'big bang singularity', or some other physical concept as yet unknown" is logically absurd, as any freshman philosophy student ought to be able to tell you. Nothing can create itself.

Secondly, the scientific evidence leads to the same conclusion. The latest understandings are in perfect agreement with the Bible's account and the claims held to all along by monotheists--that the universe (including matter, energy, space, and time) had a beginning. At the same time, modern cosmology has refuted the understanding that was a basic (and seemingly essential) assumption of Darwinism--that the universe itself is eternal.

Dawkins, however, cannot be bothered with evidence and logic, instead favoring bluster and bravado in his crusade to eliminate religious belief.

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