It’s not just that they’re wrong. It’s that they’re so sure of themselves. I wonder if they think they’re so much smarter, they don’t even need to read what we write. It’s the arrogance, in other words. Or maybe something else, like defensiveness perhaps.
It isn’t every atheist, certainly, but it’s pretty common. Last week, for example, Luis Granados wrote at The Humanist about William Lane Craig,
His signature argument, borrowed from Thomas Aquinas, is that the universe must have a cause, and the cause therefore must be God. (He uses more words, but that’s the gist of it.) He conveniently omits, though, what the cause of God is or why whatever it is that caused or didn’t cause God couldn’t have done exactly the same thing directly to the universe, skipping the God step.
Craig’s Signature Argument
Those “more words” that Craig speaks on his signature argument, the Kalam cosmological argument, boil down to this:
- Whatever begins to exist must have a cause of its existence outside of itself
- The universe began to exist.
- The universe has a cause of its existence outside itself.
This is pretty much the shortest possible way to state it. Now, let’s count Granados’ basic errors.
Four Ways Granados Got It Objectively Wrong
First, this argument shares but one thing with Thomas Aquinas: It’s an argument for God that can be labeled a cosmological argument. Other than that, none of it was borrowed from Aquinas.
Second, Granados’s “gist” omits Premises 1 and 2, without which the argument is incomplete, distorted, and silly-sounding. You don’t have the gist unless you include all three statements in the argument. It can’t be stated any more compactly than that without distorting it.
Third, Granados by omits the reasons Craig gives for thinking the cause must be God. So did I, in my very short summary above. It’s actually an extension of Craig’s Kalam argument, implied by what it must mean for the universe’s cause to be (a) outside the universe, (b) sufficient to cause the universe to come into existence, and (c) able to bring it into existence at a time in the finite rather than the infinite past.
I don’t need to develop a, b, and c for you to be able to tell that Granados didn’t bother to do it himself, and apparently didn’t care. He stated it in Least Mockable Unit form, signaling that he was looking to mock, not to understand.
Fourth, Granados made a mistake that Craig has corrected time and time again,* so often that he probably made the correction when Granados himself heard it. The argument doesn’t claim that everything must have a cause, as Granados implies when he wonders what caused God, but that everything that begins to exist must have a cause.
Craig shows in his development of Premise 2 that the universe hasn’t existed eternally, so it needs a cause. When we go searching for something else that meets requirements a, b, and c, however, we find something that very plausibly has existed eternally: God. Granados throws in a snipe on “skipping the God step,” but he ignores the fact that whatever anyone might propose to do that would have to be very much like God anyway.
All of that are things that Granados should have and would have heard explained correctly, if he’s ever encountered Craig’s own statement of the Kalam.
And a Fifth Error Besides
Fifth (not quoted above), he calls Craig a theologian, overlooking the fact that Craig has a worldwide reputation as a philosopher. Atheists typically think they can dismiss theologians because they think they can dismiss theology. Acknowledging that Craig is a philosopher would have spoiled Granados’s chance to belittle him in that way. I don’t know if that was Granados’s reason for calling him a theologian, but it’s at least a strong possibility; and it’s consistent with the mocking tone Granados took in dismissing the Kalam so quickly.
Now, that came from just slightly more than one paragraph of Granados’s article. Five complete distortions. Five smug, scornful dismissals. Five demonstrations that Granados either didn’t or wouldn’t care to understand what he was mocking in that way.
Where Do These Errors Come From?
The rest of his article is directed toward Craig’s argument on meaning and purpose, delivered at a [forum not long ago at Wycliffe College (below) . Craig had some very hard things to say about atheists and meaning, value, and purpose. Granados dismisses those, too. I’ll have to save most of my comments on that for another day. For now I want to dwell on Granados’s complete failure to represent Craig’s signature argument anywhere near accurately. I wonder what’s going on there? I can think of several possibilities. None of them are going to sound good, for how could they? I’m trying to find possible ways to explain a significant failure. So I wonder whether:
- Granados doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand the Kalam argument? That seems unlikely. It’s not that complicated, and Granados shows no indication of being unintelligent.
- He doesn’t want to represent it accurately because that would be socially unacceptable in his chosen circle of peers and friends? Social pressures can be powerful. So he defends himself from that risk by distorting the argument into silliness.
- He can’t deal with it for what it is, because on some level he feels the force of the argument, and doesn’t want to face the conclusion it would force him to adopt personally? Personal pressures can be powerful, too, leading to a similar defensive strategem.
- He really feels he’s smarter than Craig, so he doesn’t need to listen to what Craig says? I’ve seen this in some atheists, and I’ve called it the argumentum ad smarterum: basically, that one who believes in God can’t be very smart, and therefore his arguments must be wrong, not matter what those arguments may be. In that case it’s not defensiveness at play, it’s smug arrogance.
Defensiveness? or Arrogance? Which do you think?
What If I’ve Got His Intentions Wrong?
But what if all of those four possibilities are off by a mile? What if Granados comes along and explains how I’ve misconstrued his intentions completely? Then I’ve blown it. It’s possible, after all. And I’m sure if that were the case, he’d want me to correct my error, and do it publicly. It wouldn’t be the first time. Long-time readers here know that I’m willing to accept correction when I’ve been shown that I’ve erred.
But here’s what I haven’t gotten wrong. Maybe I’ve misunderstood his intentions, but I have not mis-analyzed the words that he wrote. My analysis of his version of the Kalam was done both objectively and accurately. I am very confident that I have correctly identified several ways in which Granados got it wrong. He made errors there. I wonder if he’d want to correct them — publicly — as he would surely like for me to do, if I’ve made errors in other parts of this blog post. It would be kind of like him doing to others what he would like me to do for him. Sound familiar? Think I introduced it here because it comes from the Bible? No; in fact there are versions of it in all kinds of non-biblical literature; and besides, it was Granados himself who brought it up. He tells us later in the article, “In pre-K I began appreciating the value of the golden rule, as it applied to toy sharing, and I’ve been attached to it ever since.”
I’ll be interested to see whether he’ll apply the Golden Rule here.
His comments on meaning, purpose, value, and happiness are also worth looking at, but as I said, I’ll have to save that for another day.
*Craig has corrected this error so often, even he might begin to wonder whether an actual infinite is possible after all. (Inside joke for those who have studied his argument.)
Image Credit(s): flickr.com/yamagatacamille.