Thursday, December 30, 2010

Carrier's Christmas Whoosh, Part 2

The Ticker will take the next three days off for the holiday weekend. To close 2010, Tekton ministry associate Nick Peters is addressing one of Richard Carrier’s rather poor parodies of theistic proofs.


To begin with, let's look at what Carrier calls the "Christmasological
Argument." I'm skipping the parody of the ontological argument as I do
not believe that argument works.

Anyway, Carrier frames it like this:

The Christmasological Argument

Either the universe had a beginning or has always existed.
Both science and logic entail the universe had a beginning.
Therefore the universe had a beginning.
Everything that has a beginning has a cause.
Therefore the universe had a cause.
Every cause must be either personal or mechanical.
But every mechanical cause is by definition a part of the universe,
and therefore no mechanical cause can have preceded the universe to
cause it.
Therefore the universe must have had a personal cause.
Santa Claus is a personal cause.
Creating the universe is the greatest gift conceivable.
The greatest gift conceivable can only have been given by the greatest
gift giver conceivable.
Santa Claus is by definition the greatest gift giver conceivable.
Therefore, Santa Claus caused the universe to exist.
Therefore, Santa Claus exists.

For the first eight, I really think Carrier basically has it right.
That is Kalam and fortunately, Carrier has not made the mistake some
atheists do of saying the argument says that everything that exists
has a cause. This is not what we say.

However, Carrier seems to then bring in the ontological argument from
this. Why? That is for his own reasons I'm sure, but there's no
connection I see between them unless Carrier thinks the ontological
argument is necessary to prove the definition of the kind of God that
creates the universe.

Carrier in this argument ends with a personal cause being the cause of
the universe. At this point, I am reminded of how some atheists will
take the arguments for theism and misconstrue them as if they must be
arguments for Christian theism. For instance, Dawkins in "The God
Delusion," (Sold in the humor section of your local bookstore) says
about the first three ways of Aquinas that,

"Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a
terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because
we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator
with any of the properties normally ascribed to God; omnipotence,
omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such
attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading
innermost thoughts." (Page 101)

Let us go with the first part looking at this. It speaks of conjuring
up a terminator to an infinite regress. Well if we have a terminator
to an infinite regress and it's a personal being, even if a finite
one, then it seems atheism has a problem still. Have we yet got to the
point of proving all that Dawkins says in this? Have we proven that
God is omnipotent, omniscient, etc. by this argument? Not at all. Nor
were we supposed to. (One can tell Dawkins has not read Aquinas
himself as Aquinas spends the rest of the doctrine of God
demonstrating all the attributes that Dawkins says the argument
doesn't show.)

Carrier thinks however he can go to a personal cause and then base
that personal cause on function instead of essence. When Anselm made
the ontological argument, while I agree that it is faulty, he did it
based on nature instead of function. Even if God had not created the
world, Anselm would still say he was the greatest possible being.

For instance, Santa is the greatest gift giver conceivable? Is he
really? How great a gift giver can that be? Suppose I find ten books
under my tree on Christmas morning.That's a good gift giver. I can
conceive of one however who leaves one hundred books under my tree.
Since I did not get one hundred books, then there is a greater gift
giver. However, I can keep upping the number of books to no end.
(Hence, my problem with perfection existing in that which is

If we were using modal logic, which I do not, would Santa be the
greatest gift giver in all possible worlds? What about worlds where
there are no children? What about a world where Santa was the only
rational being that existed. Would he still be the greatest gift giver
if there was no one to give gifts to?

The whole thing sounds absurd and frankly, I think it does because,
well, it is absurd. (See a parallel argument in Stephen Parrish's "God
and Necessity" about the Greatest Possible Bowler.) For me, the
problem with this argument is that it starts with a subjective reality
and thinks it can reach an objective reality from that. Starting with
thought, you will end up in thought. If you want to know about the
real world, you have to take in knowledge of the real world.

Carrier also says the universe is the greatest gift conceivable. I
consider it a great gift, but I would not agree. People in Hell will
have had the gift of the universe for instance. Salvation is the
greatest gift.

While parodies are funny, it is hard to tell if Carrier believes this
really does show the Christian argument to be absurd or not. He can
think it false, and that is one thing, but to think it absurd is
another. For that reason, it is hard for me to even laugh because I
cannot tell if Carrier thinks he understands the arguments or not.

My advice to Christians is to not get caught up in the false premises
of the atheistic arguments, such as Dawkins saying that the arguments
don't prove the attributes of God or Carrier's turning Kalam into the
Ontological argument. The argument is meant to prove what it is meant
to prove. Nothing more and nothing less. I do not believe you can by
general revelation alone get to doctrines like the Trinity or the
forgiveness of sins in Christ. You could even demonstrate historically
that Jesus rose from the dead, but that would not prove theologically
that he did so for our salvation.

We'll look more later on at the other arguments.

1 comment:

  1. The Kalam argument only establishes that if the Universe began it needs a cause. It could be argued that to create a universe the cause would have to possess the quality we would call omnipotence (to produce something from nothing) and volition (to choose to produce the universe) also preexistence (in order to be the cause) but there's not much beyond that.

    The Christian can point to the attributes traditionally ascribed to God, omnipotence, preexistence and volition, and say there is no disagreement, but that does not prove that the cause is YHWH, only that it could be.

    Since Santa is not ascribed qualities of omnipotence or preexistence he fails on two of the three points. Consequently Santa cannot be the first cause.

    What has Carrier been smoking? Probably the same stuff his assessors were when they gave him a PhD.