Ambiguity + tortured logic = god (part 2 of 3)

This post is the second in a somewhat punctuated series regarding a Cambridge Union Society debate from October 2011 on the following topic: This House believes that God is not a delusion. For the first post, see Ambiguity + tortured logic = god.

In the first part, we encountered the so-called Moral Argument, which basically hinged on the idea that the existence of anything fundamental that is not subject to human intervention or choice implies the existence of god.

In this part, we encounter the Cosmological Argument:

1) Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause.

2) The universe exists.

3) Therefore the universe has an explanation of its existence.

4) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

5) Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

I think we can tell fairly quickly where our main objection is going to lie, although the precise formulation of 1) might bear examination. Sure enough the logic used to justify premise 4) is horribly faulty. Williams claims that premise 4) is “synonymous with the standard atheistic claim that if God doesn’t exist, then the universe has no explanation”. That’s certainly not my position – we simply don’t currently know what its explanation might be. He goes on to say that “if the process of everything getting its existence from something else went on to infinity, then the thing in question would never have existence” and uses the example of wanting to lend a book but not having it, and so borrowing it from someone else who has to first borrow it from someone else, etc. Now of course this works for mundane situations like books, where we know that there is only a finite stretch of time in which books have even existed. But clearly we are talking about a special case when we talk about the universe as a whole, regardless of what the correct answer might turn out to be. For instance as far as is understood at the moment, time itself only came into existence at the moment of the Big Bang, so what it might even mean to talk about the universe’s precursors is open to question.

Finally, Williams makes the claim that the only two possibilities for an original uncaused cause are “…an abstract object or an immaterial mind”, since the thing that gives all things physical existence can’t itself have physical existence. He then discounts abstract objects because they are “causally impotent”, leaving us with the only remaining possibility, an immaterial mind. However, he utterly fails to explain what an immaterial mind might in fact be, and why it is the only remaining explanation. Immaterial I can sort of see, although then one just starts the whole merry-go-round again in the “immaterial” realm, whatever that might be. But why a “mind”? Given that as far as we can tell “mind” is an emergent phenomenon of the very physical entity the brain, there is no evidence at all that the concept of an immaterial mind even makes sense.

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