Letter to a Christian Nation
“The argument runs more or less like this”
“I am going to attack a straw man”
I’m confused as to how you’re arriving at strawman argument. The “argument” that “runs more less like this is” the Kalam Cosmological Argument put forth and defended by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. Harris paraphrases it pretty accurately here. It is true that critics claim it leads to an infinite regress among other deficiencies. The last sentence is also true because “begging the question” means assuming your conclusion is true to defend your premises. Please explain to me how this quote misrepresents the Kalam Argument or otherwise argues against a position not held in order to qualify as a strawman. Thanks!
Josh, that is either dishonest or massively ignorant from you (and Harris). Craig’s argument is NOT that “everything has a cause”.
According to Wikipedia:
William Lane Craig has formulated the argument as follows:
1.) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2.) The universe began to exist.
3.) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
4.) This cause is the God of Classical Theism, and is a personal being, because He chose to create the universe.
Now I understand that there is a real difference between “Everything has a cause” and “Whatever begins to exist has a cause”, but to a layperson it’s basically splitting hairs. Ask someone on the street the difference between “everything” and “everything that begins to exist”, and you’ll get some queer looks. The former can technically include abstract concepts and the like, which would be incorrect, but Harris isn’t using it like that. Clearly, he means the same thing. Insinuating that he’s dishonest or ignorant for using “everything” in place of “whatever begins to exist”, and tossing out his argument because of it, is simply arguing on bad faith.
Sorry Josh, no matter how you try to spin it, Harris did not represent a cosmological argument that is actually defended by anyone of note. His knockdown of this straw man version can be tossed out as simply irrelevant for obvious reasons.
Okay, even if you’re right, even if Harris is grossly misrepresenting the Kalam argument, his point still holds for the actual argument. Replace everything before the ellipses in the quote with a copy/paste of the actual argument if you want. The conclusion is still the same. Kalam DOES lead to an infinite regress. In fact, Craig had to add TWO special addenda to his version to get past that criticism, wherein he basically just asserts that “actual infinities cannot exist, therefore this argument does not lead to an infinite regress”. If God doesn’t need a creator, then why does the universe need a creator? If it’s because God is, by definition, the only thing that does not need a creator, then you are assuming that God exists with certain properties in order to prove that God exists. This is classic “begging the question”, just as Harris states.
Now on the other hand, if you’re trying to say that it is a straw man to criticize the Kalam because no one actually uses the it as a defense of god-belief… well, that’s just wrong. You might personally not use the it, but a lot of people do. Almost every conversation with a theist eventually reaches the point where the theist exclaims, “Well, then where did everything come from?”, or “What caused the Big Bang?”. Questions like that are just rudimentary forms of cosmological arguments. They might not even realize it, and probably have never heard the words “cosmological argument” in their lives, but that’s what it is. I don’t think criticizing the Kalam or any other cosmological argument is a straw man at all.
Actually, Harris is misrepresent ALL respectable cosmological arguments knocks down a version no serious thinker defends. The fact that Joe Public does not know this does not change this fact.
With regards to your opinion that you think Harris still has a point, I think this addresses that quite well.
I read that entire wall of text and I understand where you’re coming from now. However, I still think the difference between “everything has a cause” and “everything that begins to exist has a cause” is splitting hairs in a discussion aimed at the general public. I agree that there are real philosophical differences, but the target of Sam’s book could never grasp them in the space allotted. Additionally, “begins to exist” implies creation from nothing, which has never been shown to be possible outside of some fringe quantum physics. There are no examples of “things beginning to exist” to pull from and categorically separate from “everything” else. Traditional things that we think of as beginning to exist and have a cause like tables, computers, and houses are actually just rearrangements of pre-existing materials. The carpenter doesn’t cause the table to exist. He just causes a rearrangement of the wood that already exists. The atoms in the wood were forged in a distant star and before that were floating in a cloud of helium and hydrogen and before that were part of the big bang and “before” that, no one knows. This basically reduces cosmological arguments to God of The Gaps arguments since no one knows when, how, or even if things ever began existing from nothing. You can plug that gap with God if you want, but be wary, Hawking, Krauss, and others are working on it. Give them some time and this gap too may close.
Now you are just trying to justify Harris’ intellectual dishonesty and/or ignorance by insulting the audience the book was aimed at and it seems Harris himself. He could easily have written a longer “letter” just to show that he was actually aware of the actual argument right? Alas.
With regards to your comments about “begin to exist”, creation ex nihilo and rearrangement of atoms. Your comment might have some relevance if you think ALL change is merely the rearrangement of elementary particles. In other words, if you accept a metaphysically mechanistic view of the world. Your comment becomes irrelevant to someone that does not accept such a metaphysical view point, e.g. Aristotelians.
Are you intellectually honest to yourself to try and understand realty from an Aristotelian view and thus try and understand the view point of those who do not share a metaphysically mechanistic view of reality?
What I was trying to justify is that “Letter to a Christian Nation” was not a philosophical journal called “Refuting Cosmological Arguments”. Other people have written that journal. Sam was writing a book with mass appeal. You don’t write a book trying to get people excited about the space program and spend 100 pages detailing the computer systems on the space shuttle. You write to your audience. If you’re a philosophy-head who cares about the sometimes subtle differences between “everything” and “everything that begins to exist”, then the book wasn’t for you. I’m sure there are plenty of philosophy papers dismantling cosmological arguments. Go read one. For the target audience, it’s enough to say the space shuttle has a lot of fancy computers.
No, I’m not familiar with the “Aristotelian metaphysical viewpoint”. I’m not a philosophy-head. Give me a brief synopsis or point me in the direction of one and I’ll check it out.
Again, “writing a book with mass appeal” does not excuse it from being inaccurate. It just misleads the masses. It is dishonest and/or ignorant. You can write a book with mass appeal and still be accurate without being too technical.
It is like saying “the space shuttle rockets use jet fuel a jet engine to generate energy for lift-off” When someone points out this ignorant and/or dishonest mistake the person tries to defend it by saying that “who cares about the sometimes subtle differences between “jet fuel and jet engine” and “an oxidizer (ammonium perchlorate), fuel (aluminium), a catalyst, a polymer and an epoxy curing agent to generate thrust”.
He is simultaneously insulting his mass audience (who-cares if they get false information) and spreading misinformation. That kind of defense seems to put Harris in an even worse light I am afraid.
With regards to Aristotelian metaphysics.
I would suggest reading:
1) Real Essentialism by David Oderberg (technical)
2) “The Last Superstition” and “Aquinas” by Edward Feser (introductory)
3) Lots of links to good books. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/05/scholastics-bookshelf-part-iv.html
It doesn`t change anything. If you say “Whatever begin to exist has a cause, you a are admiting that somethings can exist without a begining. So why must be a god? Why cannot be simple the universe law creating big bangs? Trick of language… just that.
What is “the universe law”?
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