Theism and the Causal Principle: A response to DasAmericanAtheist

For whatever reason, the following YouTube video caught my attention annoyance. Perhaps it is because this person is speaking so close to his webcam that his face nearly fills out the entire screen forcing the viewer to constantly gaze upon his John Travoltesque chin and/or that being so close to the camera gives the feeling that he is literally in-your-face to go along with his rant that is most certainly in-your-face. Triviality–let’s deal with the subject at hand.

This video, made by James (a.k.a. DasAmericanAtheist), is a response to William Lane Craig’s response to Richard Dawkins’ response to the philosophy of the Causal Principle as used by many Christian theists to argue for the existence of God. Dawkins asks ‘Well, if the universe was designed, then who designed the designer?’ which is the same as asking “Then who made God?” Watch this video (relevant portion begins at :53).

James leads with Dr. Craig’s statement, “In order to recognize an explanation as the best, you don’t need to have an explanation of the explanation,” to which he flashes the question “Why not?” At this point, asking ‘why not?’ betrays a key misunderstanding of what Dr. Craig is saying. By asking ‘why not?’ I think James is suggesting that Dr. Craig is saying ‘The Christian theist is not obligated to his audience to give a defense of the explanation that God is the designer of the universe.’ In other words, “don’t need to” is equated with “not obligated to his audience.” This is not Dr. Craig’s position.

Dr. Craig is stating a rule in the philosophy of science; the statement above is about in part the procedural requirements for identifying a cause. Now read this slowly: what he is saying is that an explanation of an explanation of a cause is itself not part of the explanation of the cause. That is why it is ‘not needed’ in the philosophical treatment of the issue at hand and is not necessary to conclude that a certain explanation of a cause is the best explanation. What this means for Richard Dawkins is that his question “Then who designed the designer?” is completely beside the point.

This is evident, as Dr. Craig elaborates in the following example (paraphrased): “If archaeologists were digging in the earth and came across objects shaped like arrowheads, pottery shards, and tomahawks, can you imagine one of them saying “Look how the processes of metamorphosis and sedimentation have formed these uncanny objects!” Of course not. They would recognize that these were products of intelligent design by some unknown people group in the past. Now, in order to recognize that this explanation is the best explanation for these artifacts, the archaeologists don’t need to explain the origins or details of the people group in question.”

So, specifically to Dawkins’ question, the theist does not need to answer ‘then who designed the designer?’ or, in other words explain the origin of God, in order to legitimize the statement that God is the best explanation for the cause of the universe’s design.

James says that he doesn’t recognize an argument here, which is exactly my point. Dr. Craig has simply stated the parameters of the philosophy of science on the question of the causal principle in order to refute Dawkins’ mistaken notion about causes and origins (an irrelevant question that demonstratively leads to a [potentially] infinite regression of irrelevant questions of causes and origins). This is why Dr. Craig says that such a mode of inquiry is the end of science.

James asks: “How is it, that from among competing hypotheses, you can establish that a given explanation is the best explanation?” [Let me interject a minor aside here by suggesting that perhaps he doesn’t like the word “best,” as it might erroneously connote that some explanation is “best” as in “best by subjective determination.” Perhaps, then, we should use the term “most plausible” rather than “best,” if that makes the atheist more comfortable. I have no problem with that.] Back to his question: This sounds like a misdirection, given the context in which he is asking.

Going back to Dr. Craig’s example of the archaeologists, how applicable would James’ question be toward identifying a cause of the artifacts in the ground? What kind of competing hypotheses should we consider to the idea that the artifacts are products of intelligent design? While one could invent a variety of hypotheses, we would easily establish that most, if not all, other hypotheses would lack adequate explanatory power and explanatory scope compared to the explanatory power and scope of intelligent design as the most plausible explanation. But we don’t even need to ask such a question in the first place, because it is evident that it doesn’t apply to our example. Likewise, neither does it apply to identifying God as the designer of the universe.

Now, I do not mean to say that James’ question is wrong in and of itself. It is a perfectly fine question to ask in general when beginning a deductive inquiry to establish one’s parameters (hey look, we just reaffirmed the scientific method). In the issue at hand, however, the deduction that God is the most plausible explanation of the design of the universe is the conclusion drawn at the end of the Design Argument.

So while James can ask his question at the beginning of the Design Argument (which is then answered in the argument), he cannot ask the conclusion to the argument why it is considered the “best”/most plausible explanation as if it is part of the argument itself. That would be the beginning of a separate inquiry.

James reiterates: “Wouldn’t supporting a given hypothesis with evidence or argument be explaining an explanation?” Well, so far James has been using the terms “hypothesis/es”and “explanation” somewhat interchangeably, and it hasn’t been a problem until this latest equivocation. A hypothesis is NOT an explanation, even though in the previous context the terms were related enough to let it go. Here in the next question, a hypothesis is a proposition to which the evidence or arguments must either support or disprove. An explanation is a conclusion arrived at through an argument.

If we apply this question to the core topic here, then he would be demanding in effect, ‘Give an argument for the argument that concludes that God is the designer of the universe.’ Well, the Design Argument is the argument that leads to the conclusion ‘God is the designer of the universe’ as the most plausible explanation of the facts. So, the answer is “no,” because his question doesn’t make sense.

The last few statements invoking gremlins, I think, is gratuitous…and ad hoc. The possibility of gremlins isn’t even worth discussing, except for this: if James is willing to define ‘gremlin’ as a timeless, immaterial, powerful, and transcendent personal being who created the universe from nothing, then perhaps there could be a future dialogue somewhere in that.

I’ll conclude this post with another clip that shows Dr. Craig’s explanation of why philosophically we don’t need an explanation to explain who designed the designer (well looky there, we found what Dawkins asked for afterall!). And, James, if you’re reading this, I hope this straightens things out for you on this point. And, please stop eating your webcam.

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