It’s really hard to write some of these articles and stay remotely timely because of the tremendous lead time I often have. A while back now, a caller named Steven called The Atheist Experience and tried to make an argument from contingency. It was completely lame and more based on Matt Slick’s presuppositional nonsense, but after the call, which went absolutely nowhere, most figured it was just a random kook, at least until someone in the comments section found a website, by someone named Steven, published on the day after the call, which went into the same ridiculous “argument from contingency” nonsense. It’s been a while since I deconstructed one of these absurdly fallacious arguments, so strap in, it’s about to get weird.
Let’s keep in mind that nothing I’m going to say here is going to convince Steven or any other presuppositional wingnut that their views are wrong, any more than it’s possible to convince conspiracy theorists that their crazy ideas aren’t true. I wrote once about the crap that Matt Slick posts and he invited me to call into his talk show instead of simply addressing the issues in print. It’s pretty hard to do a Gish Gallop in print, which is typically what Matt Slick engages in. He just vanished into the woodwork when he realized that his shtick wouldn’t work on me.
And so, on to the lunacy that is the Argument from Contingency.
1) If something is contingent, then it derives its existence from something outside of itself.
Let’s look at the argument itself. If you go and look up the word “contingent”, you don’t find any definitions that really fit the usage here. The closest I was able to find among the myriad definitions was “dependent on or conditioned by something else”, there is nothing which states that any existence must be derived from something outside of itself. At best, Steven might be able to say he is unaware of anything that’s existence is derived from itself, that doesn’t prove that it must be so, only that he cannot think of any cases where it is so. I might be willing to agree to this odd usage of the term, just for the sake of argument, otherwise this will be a pretty short article.
2) The universe is contingent.
3) Therefore, the universe derives its existence from something outside of itself.
Given our momentary acceptance of the first point, this is true. However, what does it actually mean? Well, nothing. It doesn’t actually tell us anything about what this outside influence might have been, how it might have caused the existence of our universe, nor if it still exists. Anyone who has read the blog for any amount of time will know that I’m very big on drawing direct causal links. Theists leap around wildly, making claims they cannot demonstrate and arguing causes they are unable to support with anything remotely resembling evidence. They just hope they can slip these lapses in logic past the unaware viewer by mesmerizing them with big words. That is exactly what we will see as we continue.
To reiterate, if it’s possible that X could (have) fail(ed) to exist, then the reason for its existence is not contained within its own nature, and thus it must be contained in the existence of something else—and this thing would be where X derives its existence from.
This is just philosophical masturbation and where we start to see him slip in some of his unjustified concepts. While it is certainly possible that the universe could have failed to exist, as we will talk about in a moment, it simply asserts that there must be a reason for the universe to exist. Says who? Reason and purpose assume intent, something that he desperately wants to include, but since there is no reason to assert intent, he just shoves it in there while your eyes are glossing over. So far as we know, there is no inherent reason for the universe to exist, any more than there is an inherent reason for the rain to fall. There is a cause for it, but no reason for it.
So, the first thing we can ask is whether it is possible for the universe to have failed to exist. Here we might meet some resistance. First, what exactly is meant by the universe, and how do we know that we can conceive of it failing to exist? Well, by universe I simply mean “all matter, energy, and space-time,” and therefore this includes not only our observable universe, but any meta-universe(s), if you will. Subsequently, to say that we can conceive of matter, energy, and space-time not existing does not seem to bring forth any inherent difficulty. That is to say, there is no contradiction or incoherence in such a statement, and thus I see no claim for inconceivability that could be made here. (Note that something is said to be metaphysically possible if it is conceivable.)
This is really just a load of mumbo jumbo. Universe does not mean what he has defined it to mean, the proper definition for universe is only that which exists without our particular set of dimensions that we experience on a day to day basis. Anything that exists beyond the bounds of our universe is entirely unknown to us at present, hence we cannot make any claims or conclusions about it. The idea that we can imagine the universe not existing has no bearing on anything.
(a) How do we know that what the universe derives its existence from is God? There is nothing logically wrong with claiming that perhaps the universe derives its existence from something that is itself contingent. However, this only pushes the problem back a step further, for then this thing requires an account for its existence. The point here is that we must, at some point, admit of something which is non-contingent, that is, necessary—something that cannot fail to exist. This would be something whose nature contains the reason for its own existence, and whose nature we can contemplate while simultaneously contemplating its existence. This thing then just would be existence, that is, it would be pure existence, or pure being. And surely this is worthy of earning the name “God.”
He actually presents four arguments here, I’m simply going to address them all in one go because there are plenty of bald assertions here, all of them laughable. First, it asserts that there cannot be an unbroken chain of causality, that every effect must have a cause and that, in turn, must have another cause ad infinitem. Since such is impossible, he surmises that there must be some uncaused cause. Unfortunately, this is just a claim without support. Cause and effect are part of the physical laws of our universe. We have no way of knowing if they are inherent to all universes or to the multiverse as a whole, assuming such exists. Therefore, once we get out of our universe, cause and effect might not exist, doing away with his argument entirely. If there is no cause and effect, infinite regress becomes meaningless. If the multiverse is actually infinite, there can be an infinite line of cause and effect, again doing away with his argument. He’s simply asserting that because he is familiar with the physical laws of our universe, that all universes must be the same. We can make no such assumptions. We have experience only with a single example of a universe. The state of other potential or possible universes is wholly unknown, therefore any argument based upon an assumption must therefore be thrown out as unsupported.
Next, he simply asserts that there must be an “uncaused cause”, simply as his “get out of this illogical reasoning free” card. There’s no reason to think that there actually is one, he simply defines it into existence. Just because he can think of no other explanation, that doesn’t make his invented claim a reasonable explanation. That’s the epitome of the argument from ignorance. This is a common tactic among apologists, to simply wave their arms and pretend that by giving something a name, they make it real. Nothing could be further from the truth. Further, he names his non-contingent entity “God”, which is really meaningless. Why not call it “unicorn” or “leprechaun”, or “Fred” for that matter. Because he’s trying to smuggle his religious traditions into the equation while people are being distracted by the rest of his rhetoric. Even if he could prove that such a thing actually existed, which he hasn’t, that doesn’t make that thing God. It makes it a thing. To make his case for God credible, he’d first have to prove the thing existed, then he’d have to provide further evidence that that thing actually met the standards for being a god, then he’d have to go still further to show that the now supported god idea actually was best represented by his own personal beliefs about the Christian God. He’s done none of that. He’s using the old magician trick of misdirection, dazzling you with bullshit while trying to sneak the scam past you in his other hand.
Unfortunately, there are no end to con men with this exact tactic, selling all manner of snake oil. Presuppositional apologetics is just one of the new fad that presents nothing new but a load of horse crap and empty claims and relies on the gullibility of the listener to be hypnotized by the terminology. Don’t fall for it. There’s nothing substantive here. This is really why such shysters don’t want to operate in print, it gives people too long to dig through the words and find that there’s nothing actually there.
So in that, it’s really no different than any religion, isn’t it?