The Case for a Creator: Cosmological Arguments and Explanation

I am now reading Hugh McCann’s Creation and the Sovereignty of God.[1] He begins the book by making a case for a creator by advancing an inductive version of the cosmological argument.

Cosmological arguments seek an explanation for the existence of the world. According to McCann, an explanation for the existence of the world would account for two facts: (1) that we have a world at all, and (2) that we have this world instead of another. The best way to achieve such an explanation is to utilize what amounts to an inductive method of reasoning, a method familiarly employed by science.

Hypothetico-inductive arguments are in essence very simple: they state first that if the hypothesis under study were true, then certain phenomena ought to be observed. If they are in fact observed, then the existence of those phenomena counts as confirming evidence—that is, evidence that favors the truth of the hypothesis. (8)

Thus, our cosmological argument runs as follows:

(1) If a creator with divine attributes undertook to produce to this world, then it would surely exist. (hypothesis).

(2) The world does exist.

(3) Therefore, probably, a creator with divine attributes produced this world.

Of course, for the cosmological argument to be successful,  (1), the godly-hypothesis, must explain better than any competing naturalistic hypothesis. And according to McCann, any naturalistic explanation for the existence of the world is a nonstarter. Standard cosmology suggests that the universe began a finite time ago with the Big Bang. At the ‘point’ of the beginning, there literally was nothing—no time, no space, no matter, no energy—and no naturalistic reality to explain the world’s coming into existence (nor is there any naturalistic reality on the other side of the Big Bang to explain the universe coming into existence). To make matters worse, McCann argues that the naturalistic hypothesis can’t even explain how the world, or anything that belongs to it, can survive another instant via natural processes alone. Thus, there is no serious competitor to (1), the hypothesis that the world is best explained by the activity of a creator with divine attributes.

But, what sort of creator? What kinds of attributes? The most important property the creator must have is that of aseity—that is, the creator must exist of his own nature; there is no external explanation of the creator’s existence.  What else can we learn about the creator? Such a being is a person—having an intellect and a will. Why? The world this being created is a structured world, with orderly principles of operation. McCann observes: “it has to be [structured with orderly principles]: the idea of a universe utterly without formal organization is an idea of nothing at all” (13). Even more basic, in our experience, only rational beings (that is, persons) can be truly creative. Surely, there are more attributes than aseity and personhood, but these are enough to get us started.

At the end of the day, from the viewpoint of the naturalist’s enterprise, we now have an “ontologically haunted universe.”[2] A universe that is the result of the creative activity of a being that can properly be called God.

McCann’s book is off to an excellent start; still many questions and problems remain once we admit a creator. For example: how did God create? What (exactly) did God create? Why did God create? How does the reality of a creator comport with the natural processes described by science? And so on. Look forward to future posts where we will wrestle with these questions and many more!





[1] Hugh McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012). Page numbers above will refer to this text.

[2] Dallas Willard, “The Three-Stage Argument for the Existence of God,” in Doug Geivett & Brendan Sweetman (eds.), Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 216.

2 Responses to The Case for a Creator: Cosmological Arguments and Explanation

  1. Thomas says:

    Interesting post. I find cosmological arguments especially fun to consider, as they raise deep questions about issues involving causality, time, and probability.

    I have not read McCann’s book, so I’m only going off of what has been presented here. The first thing that struck me was that he refers to the pattern of reasoning captured in the argument as the “hypothetico-inductive” pattern of reasoning. This struck me as odd, since most of what I have read along these lines refers to this pattern of reasoning as the “hypothetico-deductive” method. Disputes about terminology are often inane, so my aim is not to derail the conversation that direction. I’m just wondering if he distinguishes the argument pattern he is employing from the hypotheto-deductive pattern.

    But now onto the substance of the argument. Many philosophers today think that the hypothetico-deductive method of reasoning is deeply flawed, at least if it takes the following form, where “H” stands for the relevant hypothesis and “E” stands for the evidence:

    (1) If H, then E.
    (2) E.
    (3) Therefore, probably H.

    One problem with this argument pattern is that H’s initial plausibility (or as Bayesians like to say, H’s prior probability) is completely ignored. But we know from Bayes’ Theorem that the probability of a hypothesis on the data is partly a function of the probability of that hypothesis independent of the data. Second, this argument pattern ignores the likelihood of E given ~H. If E is to be expected just as much given H as ~H, then it is not evidence in favor of H over ~H. Your post clearly indicates that both you and McCann are aware of this problem, but the formal presentation of the argument does not even mention the likelihood of E on ~H. If McCann would abandon the hypothetico-deductive approach and just adopt a Bayesian approach, it would be a lot easier to capture the essentially comparative nature of his reasoning.

    Another constraint that is important to keep in mind is the constraint on total available relevant evidence. This is important, since it is entirely possible for a hypothesis to explain a proper subset of the data very well while nevertheless being bested by a rival hypothesis when all of the relevant data are considered. If the hypothesis McCann wishes to defend is full blown theism, therefore, we must be careful to consider not only the fact that the world exist but the fact that the world is the way it is. And surely if the hypothesis in question makes statements about the character of the cause of the universe (which theism does), surely it is relevant that life in the universe developed via evolutionary means, that humans are the only known rational animals, that there is an abundance of misery and languishing, that there are copious amounts of religious disagreement among intelligent people of good will, and that the distribution of languishing and flourishing that does not seem to discriminate based on the moral or spiritual condition of the recipient. All of this is relevant, and so must be considered before we declare that theism is, all things considered, most probable. It flouts the constraint on total available evidence to merely focus on one particular part of the relevant data, point out that theism best explains that, and then gallop right along to concluding that theism is probably true.

    Finally, it is not clear to me that it is even proper to say that the universe “began to exist.” That the universe has a finite age may very well be true, and I’ve been led to believe that this is well-supported by our best scientific theories. But we are not in the position to know that there was ever a time at which the universe failed to exist. Our best physicists in fact deny that there was ever a time at which the universe failed to exist (or so I’ve been told). If there were a time at which the universe failed to exist, followed by a time at which it exists, then this would “cry out for an explanation,” as they say, and would look recognizably like something “coming into being.” But we do not know this to be true. As far as we know, the universe has existed at all past times, and so is an omnitemporal object of finite age. In that case, however, it is far from clear that it “came into being,” which to my ear suggests that at some past time it failed to exist but exists at some later time. I realize that one can analyze “coming into being” in such a way that it does not imply that the object failed to exist at some time and then exists at some later time. William Lane Craig has done just this. But merely to offer an analysis of “coming into being” that (one suspects) is designed to get this result is a far cry from showing that this analysis, as opposed to some alternative analysis, best captures our pretheoretical notion of “coming into being,” the one that is so intimately hooked up with our intuitions about causation and explanation.

  2. Pingback: The Problem of the Divine Micromanager | Paul Gould

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