Evaluating an Atheistic Argument

I am plowing my way through Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, and I continue to doubt that it will inform my views about cosmology. I concluded my preliminary thoughts about the book with this:

Craig … sees the hand of God in the Big Bang. The presence of the singularity … had to have been created so that the Big Bang could follow. That’s all well and good, but what was God doing before the Big Bang, that is, in the infinite span of time before 15 billion years ago? (Is it presumptuous of me to ask?) And why should the Big Bang prove God’s existence any more than, say, a universe that came into being at an indeterminate time? The necessity of God (or some kind of creator) arises from the known character of the universe: material effects follow from material causes, which cannot cause themselves. In short, Craig pins too much on the Big Bang, and his argument would collapse if the Big Bang is found to be a figment of observational error.

Later, however, Craig adopts a more reasonable position:

The theist … has no vested interest in denominating the Big Bang as the moment of creation. He is convinced that God created all of space-time reality ex nihilo, and the Big Bang model provides a powerful suggestion as to when that was; on the other hand, if it can be demonstrated that our observable universe originated in a broader spacetime, so be it — in that case it was this wider reality that was the immediate object of God’s creation.

Just so.

Many pages later, after rattling on almost unintelligibly, Smith gets down to brass tacks by offering an actual atheistic argument. It goes like this (with “premise” substituted for “premiss”):

(1) If God exists and there is an earliest state E of the universe, then God created E.

(2) If God created E, then E is ensured either to contain animate creatures or to lead to a subsequent state of the universe that contains animate creatures.

Premise (2) is entailed by two more basic theological premises, namely,

(3) God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly benevolent.

(4) An animate universe is better than an inanimate universe….


(5) There is an earliest state of the universe and it is the Big Bang singularity….

The scientific ideas [1, 2, and 5] also give us this premise

(6) The earliest state of the universe is inanimate since the singularity involves the life-hostile conditions of infinite temperature, infinite curvature, and infinite density.

Another scientific idea … the principle of ignorance, give us the summary premise

(7) The Big Bang singularity is inherently unpredictable and lawless and consequently there is no guarantee that it will emit a maximal configuration of particles that will evolve into an animate state of the universe….

(5) and (7) entail

(8) The earliest state of the universe is not ensured to lead to an animate state of the universe.

We now come to the crux of our argument. Given (2), (6), and (8), we can now infer that God could not have created the earliest state of the universe. It then follows, by (1), that God does not exist.

This is a terrible argument, and one that I expect to be demolished by Craig’s response, which I haven’t yet read. Here is my demolition: Smith’s premises (3) and (4) are superfluous to his argument; if they are worth anything it is to demonstrate the shallowness of his grasp of theistic arguments for the existence of God. Smith’s premise (2) is a non sequitur; the universe does contain animate creatures and might do so even if God didn’t exist. Smith’s (6), (7), and (8) are therefore irrelevant to Smith’s argument. And, by Smith’s own “logic”,  God must exist because premise (2) is confirmed by reality.

Here is my counter-argument:

(I) If God exists:

(A) He must exist infinitely, that is, without beginning.

(B) He is necessarily apart from His creation; therefore, His essence is beyond human comprehension and cannot be characterized anthropomorphically nor judged by any of His creations, except to the extent that if God is a conscious essence, He may enable human beings to know His character and intentions by some means.

(II) The universe, as a material manifestation that is observable by human beings (in part, at least) must have been created by God because material things cannot create themselves. (The processes appealed to by atheists, such as quantum fluctuations and vacuum energy, operate on existing material.)

(III) The universe, as a creation of an infinite God, may have had an indeterminate beginning.

(IV) There is, therefore, no reason to suppose that the Big Bang and all that ensued in the observable universe is the whole of the universe created by God. Rather, the Big Bang, and all that ensued in the observable universe may be a manifestation of a broader spacetime that is forever beyond the ken of human beings.

(V) Human knowledge of the observable universe is limited to the physical “laws” that can be inferred from what is known of the observable universe since its apparent origin as a material entity.

(VI) It is therefore impossible for human beings to know what processes preceded the origin of the observable universe.

(VII) Because animate, conscious organisms exist in the observable universe, the physical processes (if any) involved in the origination of the observable universe must have been conducive to the development of such organisms. But, by (6), whether that was by “design” or accident is beyond the ken of human beings.

(VIII) But animate, conscious organisms may be the result of a deliberate act of God, who may enable human beings to know of His existence and his design.

This is an unscientific argument, in that it can’t be falsified by observation. By the same token, so too is Smith’s argument unscientific, despite his use of scientific jargon and “scientific” speculations. But the weakness of Smith’s argument is proof (of a kind) that God exists and that He created the universe. That is to say, Smith (and countless others like him) seem determined to refute the logically necessary existence of God, but their refutations fail because they are illogical.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
What Is Time?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Tenth Dimension
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II) (first item)
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Religion, Creation, and Morality
Atheistic Scientism Revisited
Through a Glass Darkly
Existence and Knowledge

3 thoughts on “Evaluating an Atheistic Argument

  1. I agree with you, for example here: “…all that ensued in the observable universe may be a manifestation of a broader spacetime that is forever beyond the ken of human beings.” The last phrase is the one that works for me. It may be that we get glimpses of what I prefer to call “the great everything.” Perhaps Jesus of Nazareth and Gautama Buddha (and others) ‘saw’ more directly or deeply or further and converted such perceptions into human terms/perceptions, which are less than the whole of it. I accept the mystery.
    Home Art-X-inverted-B+W


  2. Thanks for posting. Here’s my layman’s understanding of the discussion of God (as creator) and time. Aristotle and many pagan thinkers dealt with “what God did before creating the universe” — and the seeming problem of infinite regression (what did the Prime Mover do before the cosmos, and what did he do before that, and before that….) — by saying that the cosmos itself was eternal; however, God still exists as the antecedent cause: like a person moving a rock with a lever. It’s a simultaneous action, but the rock doesn’t move without the mover.

    Then there is the classical Christian argument, from Boethius (6th c.) through Aquinas (13th c.). This says that 1) the difference between eternity and time is more than one of infinite duration; 2) that God as a perfect being does not undergo change. Hence to be “eternal” is to exist outside of time. For him there is only an eternal now, everything seen at once. Thus there was for him no moment “before” creation, even though Scripture, especially OT, often speaks in anthropomorphic terms — in ways that people could relate to — like God growing angry, changing his mind, etc. Aquinas, referencing Boethius, says:

    “It is manifest that time and eternity are not the same. Some have founded this difference on the fact that eternity has neither beginning nor an end; whereas time has a beginning and an end. This, however, makes a merely accidental, and not an absolute difference because, granted that time always was and always will be, according to the idea of those who think the movement of the heavens goes on for ever, there would yet remain a difference between eternity and time, as Boethius says (De Consol. v), arising from the fact that eternity is simultaneously whole; which cannot be applied to time: for eternity is the measure of a permanent being; while time is a measure of movement.” —Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, a. 4

    More here:

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  3. Thanks for the commentary. I am especially struck by these points:

    “to be ‘eternal’ is to exist outside of time. For him there is only an eternal now, everything seen at once. Thus there was for him no moment ‘before’ creation…”

    “eternity is simultaneously whole … for eternity is the measure of a permanent being; while time is a measure of movement.”

    It is difficult (perhaps impossible) for humans to grasp the idea of eternity as something that exists whole and timelessly.


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