NEW LIFE FOR OLD PROOFS
OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
OXFORD, OHIO-For over two thousand years philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the question of God's existence.1 In 2013 this question is attracting as much interest and controversy as it ever has, thanks in part to the advances in science that have taken place since 1900. Developments like big bang cosmology and the apparent "fine-tuning" of our universe to support life have brought renewed attention to traditional arguments for the existence of a First Cause or Intelligent Designer.2
philosopher who has been instrumental in reviving and updating these classical
arguments for God is Dr. William Lane Craig. Craig, a Research Professor of
Philosophy at Talbot Theological Seminary in Los Angeles, is today's foremost
evangelical Christian apologist. Through books, public debates and lectures,
and his Reasonable Faith website,
he gives a vigorous presentation of evidence for theism---Christian theism in
March 23, 2013, Dr. Craig gave a lecture at Miami University on two traditional
proofs for the existence of God. Speaking to an audience of over six hundred,
he discussed these proofs in light of modern research in astrophysics and
Big Bang and the Cosmological Argument
Craig talked first about the cosmological argument, one version of which can be summarized as follows:
1. Everything that has a beginning has a
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Craig traces this form of the argument, which he has labeled the Kalam Cosmological Argument, back to the medieval Islamic philosopher Al-Ghazali (1058-1111).3 It is a simple syllogism that forces anyone who agrees with the premises (steps 1 and 2) to accept the conclusion (step 3) also.
2 has always been the more controversial of the two premises. There are
philosophical arguments for step 2 based on the impossibility of an actual
infinity existing in reality. By one such line of reasoning, if the universe
had no beginning, then there would be an infinite sequence of past events.
Since an actual infinity cannot exist in reality, the universe must have had a
is also scientific evidence supporting step 2. In the 1920s Russian
mathematician Alexander Friedmann and Belgian
astronomer Georges Lemaitre, working independently, found solutions of
Einstein's equations of general relativity that predicted an expanding
universe. Then in 1929, American astronomer Edwin Hubble provided experimental
verification of the Friedman-Lemaitre model. Hubble found that light from
distant galaxies is shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, an indication
that the universe is indeed expanding. So if the universe were
"rewound", it would contract in size, back to some
time in the past when all the matter in the universe was concentrated in
one place. At that moment a "Big Bang" apparently occurred, the
initial event in the history of the universe.
led up to the Big Bang? One currently popular theory proposes that our universe
was generated as part of the expansion process of another one, which was in
turn generated by another one, et cetera. In this scenario, our universe is
part of a "multiverse" of worlds.
first this might seem to be a way around the cosmological argument. However,
Craig explained that in 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin
proved that in any expanding multiverse scenario, the universe-forming process
would have to have a beginning. The cosmological argument then still would be
valid, with the word "universe" defined to mean the entire
argument gives us good reason to believe that the universe (appropriately
defined) had a "first cause". What can be said about this cause?
Craig argues that since it is external to the universe, it must transcend space
and time. Therefore the first cause would be changeless and immaterial,
uncaused and without a beginning. It would also have to be unimaginably
powerful to be able to orchestrate the initial Big Bang.
Craig reasons that there are two kinds of causal explanations: (a) scientific
explanations expressed via physical laws and initial conditions; (b) personal
explanations involving agents and their volitions. Since nothing scientific
exists before the beginning of the universe, Craig concludes that the first
cause is personal in nature, so that the first cause is "a personal agent
who freely chooses to create a universe in time."5
This first cause sounds a lot like the Being we call God.
and the Teleological Argument
Dr. Craig then turned to the teleological argument, or argument from design. This is probably the oldest proof for the existence of God, reasoning from the order and beauty in the universe to the existence of a divine Designer. As we read in Psalm 19, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork."
teleological argument has gained renewed support in light of mounting evidence
that the universe seems to be specially "fine-tuned" to allow the
existence of life.6 In the
physical laws of the universe, formulated as equations, there are constants not
determined by the equations themselves. There are other constants that are
boundary conditions for the universe. For the universe to support intelligent life,
many of these numbers are required to fall into astoundingly narrow ranges. For
example, changes in either the gravitational constant or weak force constant of
times their values would preclude the existence of life. Similarly, if a parameter
governing the expansion rate of the universe right after the Big Bang were
slightly smaller, the universe would have recollapsed long ago; while if that
parameter were slightly higher, the galaxies would not have been able to form. 7
said that a teleological argument based on fine-tuning would assess the
likelihood of all the possible explanations for the evidence we have. He
asserted that the three possibilities are necessity, chance, and design. For
"necessity" to be the answer, there would have to be physical laws
and equations that would single out our universe as the only possible one.
Scientists do not anticipate that this is the case. For example, it is
estimated that string theory allows 10500 possible universes
governed by our laws of nature.
considering the possibility of chance as an explanation for fine-tuning, some
point out that the only kind of universe we could possibly observe is one that
is fine-tuned for our existence. But this does not make such an event likely. A
helpful analogy is a scenario where a firing squad of a hundred skilled
marksmen fires at me. The only way I could notice that they all missed would be
if they all missed, but I would still be very surprised to survive the attempted
our universe is part of a multiverse of many worlds, there would be a greater
possibility of the existence of at least one universe that supports life. But
in a large collection of randomly-generated universes, what would a typical
life-supporting universe look like? Here, Craig stated, the laws of
thermodynamics suggest an answer. He cited an estimate by physicist Roger
Penrose that the odds of a random universe having the low entropy of our
universe were on the order of 1 to 1010^23. A random observable
universe would almost certainly have a smaller region of thermal disequilibrium
than ours and would very likely contain the observer and nothing else.
Craig concluded that chance is not a credible explanation of the fine-tuning
for life that exists in our universe. Design is the most likely explanation for
the universe's existence, even if the universe is part of a much larger
cosmological and teleological arguments have ancient roots but are still
powerful chains of reasoning in the twenty-first century.8
Although the people most inclined to accept these arguments are those who
believe in God already, the arguments still serve important purposes. In
particular, Dr. Craig's lecture undoubtedly strengthened the faith of many
theists who were in attendance.
1An engaging history of
the quest to prove or disprove God's existence is given by journalist Nathan
Schneider in his book, God
in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet,
University of California Press, Berkeley, 2013.
2See God in Proof,
3In chapter 3 of his
Faith (Third Edition, Crossway Books, 2008), Craig explains, " `Kalam' is the Arabic word for speech and came to denote a
statement of theological doctrine and ultimately the whole movement of medieval
4Craig carefully discusses
the premises of the cosmological argument in chapter 3 of Reasonable Faith.
6I have previously
discussed this issue in the article, "Is There a Place
in Science for Belief in Design?" in Issue 16 of Grace
7For more discussion,
see Reasonable Faith, Chapter 4.
proofs of God's existence, such as the ontological and moral arguments, are
also stated and defended in Chapters 3 and 4 of Reasonable Faith.
translated from TEX by TTH,
On 13 Aug 2013, 12:40.