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Does God Exist? (2002)

Imran Aijaz's Second Rebuttal: Reply to Dr. Cooke's Criticisms of Theism

 

I am grateful to Dr. Cooke for his criticisms of the arguments I gave in favour of theism. Nothing in his critique, however, constitutes a serious rebuttal to any of them, as I shall now argue.

(1) Circularity?

Dr. Cooke complains that my arguments for theism are circular, since I assume the existence of God before proving it. That is, I assume the existence of a supernatural Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and then conclude that such a being exists. But this is not at all true. It is correct that both Dr. Cooke and I held our positions of atheism and theism respectively before giving our arguments in this debate. Our convictions, however, have no bearing on the soundness of the arguments we give. Philosophy of religion proceeds by trying to prove the God hypothesis or refute it. One needs a hypothesis, however, before one can attempt a proof or disproof! And this is not just restricted to philosophy of religion. Bertrand Russell's work in Principia Mathematica consisted of an argument, spanning across a number of volumes, attempting to prove that 1 + 1 = 2.8.[1]

If Dr. Cooke's objection here is cogent, which I do not think it is, then it would also apply conversely to atheism. Only if Dr. Cooke presupposes a concept of God can he deny it, based on various atheological arguments. Otherwise, as I stated in my first rebuttal, the presumption of ignorance prevails over the presumption of atheism.

(2) God As Creator

In my opening statement, I argued for the existence of a first, metaphysical cause of our universe. The argument presented was the following deductive syllogism:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Dr. Cooke begins his flippant reply to the "long-discredited" Kalam argument by claiming that it "does absolutely nothing to prove that his [my] god is responsible for all this efficient causation." I agree, and not once in my opening statement did I claim this argument is proof that Allah exists; hence, Dr. Cooke is attacking a man of straw here by ascribing to the argument a level of justification it does not claim. More importantly, I want to point out to readers that this reply is entirely ad hoc, for Dr. Cooke does not explicitly state that he disagrees with the conclusion of the Kalam argument. Is he, then, tacitly admitting that there was, in fact, a Creator involved, even though its identity is unknown?

Dr. Cooke's worry is that, "[f]ar from being the Super-duper god, it [the creation of the universe] could just as easily have been the work of Hyper-mega, Wow-wee, or any of the others." Fair enough. The personal Creator of the universe could have been Allah, Ganesh, Zeus or any of the other deities described in Dr. Cooke's cherished Encyclopedia of Gods. There are, however, two immediate replies I have to this objection. First, the fact that there is at least one transcendent Creator of the universe, even if its identity is unknown, eliminates atheism a priori as a viable option. Second, it is simply untrue that all supernatural hypotheses are equiprobable with respect to accounting for the origins of our universe. For example, postulating the existence of one God is more rational than a multitude of gods, as acknowledged by Hume, when he writes that "[t]o multiply causes without necessity is... contrary to true philosophy."[2]

The logic of the Kalam cosmological argument is unassailable; if one agrees that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence, and the universe began to exist, then it follows inescapably that the universe has a cause of its existence. Dr. Cooke demurs. He does not dispute the validity of the Kalam argument's logic, but states that it has "little relevance to what science is actually saying about the cosmos." This objection relies on a fallacious distinction between logic and science; one that attempts to subsume logic under science, when it is really the other way around. Science presupposes logic; it commits itself to various logical and mathematical truths that cannot be proven, which is why a scientific argument can be based on logical errors. Metaphysical truths are also presupposed by science, such as the belief in other minds, the reality of the external world, and, of course, the causal principle. These truths cannot be proven by science, but are nevertheless presupposed by it.

Doesn't Hawking's principle of ignorance, however, cast doubt on the metaphysical truth of the causal premise utilized by the Kalam argument, as Dr. Cooke contends? According to this principle, the hypothetically postulated singularity, from which our universe arose, is intrinsically unpredictable, and because of this, we cannot predict the position or momentum of any particle that is emitted from the singularity. Thus, according to Dr. Cooke, "[t]his leaves little room for antiquated notions of efficient causes." Dr. Cooke is on thin ice here; it does not follow from our inability to determine the position or momentum of a particle emerging from the singularity that such particles emerge uncaused ex nihilo. All that follows from Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is that the laws which govern the change of these particles are unpredictable; not, as Dr. Cooke erroneously thinks, that such particles begin to exist uncaused.

What follows, then, from the so-called principle of ignorance is that the beginning of the universe was unpredictable. Dr. Cooke misleads his readers by implying that this principle allows him to get away with the farcical suggestion that the universe began to exist uncaused out of nothing. Furthermore, he inadvertently supplies the proponent of the Kalam argument with ammunition against his already crumbling position. The fact that the universe did have a beginning and ended up being ordered and fine-tuned to permit life, as opposed to a being chaotic, weakens the case for naturalistic origins, while strengthening the case for a supernatural one.

Ah, but who created God? "[I]t is quite arbitrary to insist that the Big Bang turn needs a cause--God--but that God doesn't," writes Dr. Cooke. Not at all. In my opening statement, I gave reasons why an infinite regress of causes is not a viable option. And if this is true, the existence of a first cause is an inescapable ontological necessity. The naive "Who made God?" objection does not work for a number of reasons.

  • First, it presupposes that God is a created being. But this is logically impossible if one agrees that God is the first cause of the universe. It follows analytically that no cause could possibly precede a first cause.

  • Second, if postulating the existence of God explains the existence of our universe, it does not follow that we have not accounted for why the cosmos exists, even though God's existence may have no explanation. For example, the theory of continental drift explains certain facts, but did not have an explanation itself for several years, until the discovery of plate tectonics.

  • Third, the objection, once again, is ad hoc, because whether God has a cause is a different question from whether the universe has one. Certainly, if God began to exist, then He has a cause for His existence, but this has absolutely no bearing on whether the universe has a transcendent cause for its existence. Of course, I hold that God is uncaused because He is the first cause of the universe, and is therefore, by definition, without a cause.

  • Finally, the "Who made God?" objection rests on a categorical fallacy. What is true of God is not necessarily true of the universe. It does not follow that atheists can say the universe is uncaused if I hold that God is uncaused. This position would only be arbitrary if I claimed that everything has a cause and then claimed that God does not have a cause. Since I do not claim this, we have yet another straw man knocked down by Dr. Cooke.

It seems, then, that none of the criticisms proffered by Dr. Cooke counts as a serious rebuttal to the Kalam cosmological argument.

(3) God As Designer

Further considerations in favour of the cause of the universe being a conscious and intelligent being comes from the finely-tuned nature of the universe. The argument I gave was the following:

1. A universe exhibiting fine tuning is not improbable under the theistic hypothesis.
2. A universe exhibiting fine tuning is very improbable under the atheistic hypothesis.
3. Therefore, a universe exhibiting fine-tuning is evidence for theism over atheism.

Dr. Cooke does not deny that the universe is finely-tuned to permit life, but he simply recognizes this as a brute fact, writing, "we live in a finely-tuned universe because, well, it's finely tuned." But this answer simply avoids giving an explanation. Dr. Cooke does not dispute either premise (1) or (2), so why does he deny the conclusion? The reason, apparently, is because postulating God as an explanation raises more questions--presumably the "Who made God?" objection, which I have dealt with above. Yet again, we see that Dr. Cooke's objection is ad hoc, for he does not confront the argument head on. Sheer fortuitous accidents, it seems, will have to suffice as an explanation for the universe being finely-tuned.

But, evidently, this kind of reply will be seen as ludicrous, if not outrageous, to many, in analogous scenarios. One does not claim that it is a "brute fact" when one finds a well guarded vault lying open and empty in a bank, or, say, when one finds an arrangement of stones saying "New Zealand" on the shore of the beach. Of course, it remains abstractly possible that these things simply happened by chance, but many will ascribe agent explanation to these events; someone stole from the vault in the bank and someone arranged the stones on the beach. Why, then, should one deny agent explanation when even more complex examples are to be found in the natural world? In the absence of a plausible naturalistic account for the fine-tuning of the universe, there is certainly a prima facie case for agent explanation, and hence, for theism over ontological naturalism.

Conclusion

Taken together, the cosmological and teleological considerations I have given in this debate so far give us very good reasons to believe there is at least one being, a powerful, intentional agency, behind the ostensibly purposive nature of the universe. Dr. Cooke's replies to these considerations are a series of disjointed, ad hoc objections that do not formulate a coherent picture for his naturalistic alternative when taken together. For example, why bother asking which god created the universe when also arguing for an uncaused beginning of the universe? Furthermore, none of them have any force at all, as I have argued. The irrevocable destruction of theistic arguments proclaimed in Dr. Cooke's opening statement, if based on the considerations given in his rebuttal, turns out to be nothing more than a rhetorical facade. Thus, the charge of irrevocable destruction remains far from justified.


References

[1] Anthony Kenny, (ed.), Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays, (NY, Doubleday: 1969), p. 2.

[2] For Hume's discussion, see his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, (1779) in Thomas Hill Green and Thomas Hodge Grose, (eds.), David Hume: The Philosophical Works, (London, 1886), Vol. 2., pp. 412-416.


[Read Bill Cooke's Second Rebuttal]

[Read the Rest of the Debate]


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