This is a response to an article in the latest edition of The Philosopher – the official twice yearly Journal of the Philosophical Society of England.
In the Spring 2015 issue, I was pleased to see that religious debate is still alive in Philosophy. I was particularly interested Norman Bacrac’s refutation of William Craig. Craig goes through the deep questions unanswered by science, such as what is consciousness, how the Universe began, or why it is fine tuned; and he places God in these spaces. Norman’s refutation either gives a natural explanation for a gap or claims that no explanation is necessary. My view is that Craig is a bit hasty in putting God in the gaps, but Norman’s refutations are not wholly convincing. To give examples, I will comment on three of them:
Reason 1. CRAIG:God is the best explanation why anything at all exists, because anything that exists, including the universe needs an explanation.
BACRAC:Some events in the sub-atomic world are without explanation, soit may be that the universe as a whole does not have an explanation. (I assume Bacrac means what he says here, and not the more modest claim that we do not or cannot know the explanation)
Comment. The spontaneous events in the sub-atomic world average out on a larger scale, so in the world we experience events have an explanation. If a computer materialised on my desk without cause I would be surprised; and the universe is larger than my computer. Bacrac proposes that because the smallest events can occur without explanation the largest event may not require one, although explanations are needed for all events between these extremes. I do not find this persuasive.
No explanation means not just that the universe started with no explanation, but also how and when. If we postulate that it may have started just before the big bang, because it was then in its simplest state, that is attempting an explanation of when. With no explanation, it could have started somewhere in the middle of a previous contraction before the big bang, or could have started last Tuesday with a virtual past. Also we should be worried that any time the universe could end, because what starts without a reason can stop without a reason. The no-explanation explanation is not that simple.
Reason 4 CRAIG God is the best explanation for the fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life. (The Goldilocks phenomenon)
BACRAC The multiverse addresses this issue.
Comment. This phenomenon has been recently discovered by cosmologists. They find that it is improbable that after the big bang everything was just right for our stable universe; and they propose the multiverse for a solution. In the multiverse other universes exist with different values of physical constants. We just happen to be in the one that worked for us. Proponents differ on the nature of the multiverse, but (surprisingly) they are serious about its existence. Other scientists are critical because:–
1. We cannot explore another universe, so the theories cannot be verified. If the possibility of verification is ruled out by the nature of a theory, it is normally ruled out as a scientific explanation. Theories of this type which account for known facts but do not have the possibility of verification may have a value, but we then have a problem in deciding what status to give them. If we extend science to allow them, this could extend our range of knowledge, but how do we limit what is allowed?
2. We cannot have a theory about the multiverse. Whatever is true in our universe is untrue in the others, including our theory that they exist.
Maybe acceptance of the Goldilocks effect in our one universe is the simpler explanation.
ReasonX. BACRAC discusses Free Will which is a topic he says Craig has not raised but should have. He goes on to give a biological explanation on how we make decisions. The physicalist biological account of who we are is a respected philosophical position, but not the only one. We in the North East Group have been studying “The Spirit of the World” by Roger Scruton, where he argues that our personal language is an alternative and sometimes better explanation of who we are. Bacrac, instead of solving the free will problem with biology, has joined a philosophical debate.
We could comment on more of the responses, but these are sufficient to show that Bacrac’s refutations are more complex than claimed, and if we cannot accept Craig’s certainties, then deep questions about us and the world remain unanswered. We have no choice to live and die without knowing why we, or in fact the whole universe, are here.
I am not a cosmologist, or for that matter a philosopher, so some of the above could be simply mistaken. It has been fun thinking about it, and I hope it contributes to the debate.
North East Group