Ruse gives us an example of the worst form of accomodationism. Beginning at 2:11, Ruse treats us to a defense of the cosmological argument for the existence of god. Here's his (Ruse's) brief description.
1. Everything has a cause.
2. The world is a thing therefore the world must have a cause.
3. Call it god.
This is somewhat simplistic (), a more sophisticated version can be found on Wikipedia (above) or at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cosmological Argument.
In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins lumps together three similar arguments; "The Unmoved Mover," "The Uncaused Cause," and "The Cosmological Argument." He describes the Uncaused Cause argument as ..
Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause, and again we are pushed back into regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God.Dawkins argues that all these arguments for god's existence rely on a problem of infinite regress. God is required to get us out of the regress but it only works if we assume that God himself doesn't have to have a cause. Dawkins also points out that even if you are satisfied with inventing an infinite regress terminator, there's no reason why it has to have any of the properties normally associated with the Christian God.
I agree with Dawkins. Invoking a supernatural being that doesn't have to have a cause doesn't solve the problem. Furthermore, such a being could just as easily be the Q Continuum or The Flying Spaghetti Monster. The difference is that if anyone seriously tried to use a version of the cosmological argument as proof of the Q Continuum or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, their sanity would be questioned.
Ruse continues with his defense ...
Philosophy100 undergraduate response: 'What caused god?' ... It's a good question but it's not the end of the argument.Ruse goes on to explain that sophisticated theologians have a number of answers to this question. What they do is "articulate a notion of God who would be "first cause." They also claim that god is a "necessary being," according to Ruse.
It's a shame that nominal atheists like Michael Ruse have been bamboozled into thinking that these extensions of the cosmological argument are logical. In the 2000 years since this argument has been with us, there are very few nonbelievers who have been converted to Christianity because of the first cause argument or any other "pure reason" argument.
I'm willing to bet that if you took 1000 secular, nonbeliever, citizens of Holland and sat them down for a one day seminar on the cosmological argument, there would not be any convert to Christianity. That's the real measure of how good an argument really is—it's ability to convince opponents. We don't care whether devout Christians think the cosmological argument is convincing because they've already been convinced by other means (see confirmation bias").
Let's have ... the intellectual integrity to look at these things and look at the responses that the Christian philosophers ... have made. ... The trouble with Dawkins is that he doesn't get to that point.Let's be very clear about what Ruse is saying. He agrees that invoking a "first cause" that's immune to cause will immediately raise a question about the properties of that entity and why we should accept the premise. He admits that the theologians then have to bring in all sorts of additional baggage to "prove" that their kind of god must exist. None of those arguments make any sense to an atheist just as similar arguments about the properties of the Q Continuum would look silly to a Christian. None of those additional arguments about the properties of your favorite "first cause" have anything to do with the cosmological argument per se. Just look at how Ruse himself defines the argument above.
I think this is a case where Dawkins and Philosophy100 students have it right.
If you want to see an extended version of how a "sophisticated theologian" might defend the cosmological argument then read Edward Fessor's blog: So you think you understand the cosmological argument?. Here's the key passage ...
2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.I can't imagine why Richard Dawkins decided not to deal with this kind of nonsense.
The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which just happens not to have a cause. It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be. On the contrary, the cosmological argument – again, at least as its most prominent defenders (Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.) present it – is concerned with trying to show that not everything can be a “brute fact.” What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist. And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place. And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.
Fessor's article is part of a larger discussion about "sophisticated theology." If you want to read more, here are two posts by Jason Rosenhouse: Where Can I Find the Really Good Theology? Part One and Where Can I Find the Really Good Theology? Part Two.
[Image Credit: Q Continuum at Cafe Press.]