Jeffery Jay Lowder, founder of Internet Infidels, has objected to a post of mine, “William Lane Craig’s eight Special-Pleading arguments for God’s existence”, that was in turn a reply to an article by theologian William Lane Craig in Philosophy Now. Craig’s article presented a number of arguments for the existence of God, including the “cosmological argument”.
Lowder’s charge is that I didn’t take a serious enough approach to Craig’s article, and didn’t respond carefully to how Craig had laid out his argument. I accept that my article was dismissive in tone, and, rather than giving a thorough examination of each of Craig’s points, I attempted to highlight a “special pleading” element running through all of them. But, I still regard my post as being fair; essentially, I regard the whole cosmological argument as being one big whopper of special pleading.
The argument for a “first cause” notices that if something had a cause, and that cause then needed something to cause it, et cetera, then you either get infinite regress or you need a starting point: a cause that wasn’t caused.
But how to explain the un-caused cause? The theologians’ usual tactic (which Craig employs) is to declare it to be “metaphysically necessary”, something that must exist because it could not not exist.
Craig’s argument asserts that everything requires a cause (he calls all such things “contingent”). He then makes one exception. That exception he declares to be “metaphysically necessary”, and that exception is, of course, the god he believes in.
In my original post I paraphrased this argument as:
1. Everything needs an explanation of its existence.
2. Except God, of course, which doesn’t.
3. Therefore God created everything else.
I described this as “special pleading”, which Rational Wiki defines as:
… a logical fallacy asking for an exception to a rule to be applied to a specific case, without proper justification of why that case deserves an exemption.
Am I being fair? Well, what is Craig’s actual argument for God being “metaphysically necessary”? Is this concept of metaphysical necessity something that is accepted and verified in some other area of science or philosophy? Well, no it isn’t, it’s a concept invented solely for the cosmological argument. Is the existence of entities that are metaphysically necessary verified by empirical data? Well, no, not at all. Is the existence of things that are metaphysically necessary mandated by logic? Well, no, they aren’t.
Thus, the assertion that God is metaphysically necessary is adopted purely to make the cosmological argument work. Without it the argument falls apart. Indeed Craig gives the whole game away, telling us that he declares his god to be metaphysically necessary since “otherwise its existence would also need explaining”.
The claim that one and only one entity is metaphysically necessary (whereas everything else is contingent), and claiming so purely to make the argument work, is the very essence of special pleading. Indeed, slapping on the label “metaphysically necessary” is just a by-fiat declaration that: “I don’t need to provide further explanation”, and to slap that label on Craig’s god, as opposed to on anything else, is entirely arbitrary.
You could just as arbitrarily declare that the occurrence of the Big Bang was metaphysically necessary. Surely everyone could see that if I merely asserted that the Big Bang was “metaphysically necessary”, without further justification, then I’d be making an empty assertion that begged the whole question?
Thus, unless someone produces actual evidence or argument for the validity of the concept of metaphysical necessity, I’ll regard it as pure special pleading adopted by theologians who cannot think up any actually good arguments for their god.
So, to Lowder’s post, where he suggests that:
This argument is the Leibnizian cosmological argument, based upon the distinction between necessary and contingent existence. Hellier, however, is apparently not familiar with either this distinction or the argument.
No, I am familiar with it, and it is exactly this distinction that I am addressing. (And I’m not sure why Lowder suggests that I am “not familiar” with the distinction, given that he quotes my two points above which are essentially paraphrases of the concepts “contingent” and “necessary”.)
More important, Hellier doesn’t clearly identify which premise(s) of Craig’s argument he rejects or why he rejects it (them).
I reject the whole distinction between “necessary” and “contingent” beings, given that it is a distinction invented solely to make the argument work. If this distinction had been established and justified in some other way, and was now being imported into the cosmological argument, then that would be valid reasoning. But inventing it precisely to make the cosmological argument work is the very essence of special pleading.
If I were to say to Craig, please now present your evidence that this distinction exists and that the concept of being metaphysically necessary is valid, he could only reply that if it didn’t exist then the cosmological argument wouldn’t work. Thus the necessary/contingent distinction is predicated on the cosmological argument and the cosmological argument is predicated on the necessary/contingent distinction.
Lowder suggests that Craig would only be committing the fallacy of special pleading if he were to assert both of:
1. Every contingent thing has an explanation of its existence.
2′. God is a contingent thing that does not require an explanation of His existence.
But the word “contingent” here means “occurring or existing only if (certain circumstances) are the case; dependent on”, and so is synonymous with the event having an explanation of its existence. The two assertions would thus be better put as:
1. Everything has and requires an explanation of its existence, except:
2′. God does not have or require an explanation of His existence.
That, right there, is the special pleading at the heart of the cosmological argument. Unless those two assertions can be evidenced or established independently of the cosmological argument, their use is nothing but special pleading. Indeed the whole business of the distinction between “metaphysically necessary” and contingent is merely dressing up the special pleading in philosophical language.
We need to be careful about theologians getting away with making un-evidenced assertions as though they were actual arguments. Another such assertion is that an entity that can listen to the prayers of a billion people simultaneously can be “simple”. We should not allow theologians to set the framing of theological questions, and then play by their rules, and I reject the whole framing of the cosmological argument in terms of the non-concept “metaphysical necessity”.