Here, philosopher Ed Feser offers a flyswatter for weak cosmological arguments against the existence of God:
Most people who comment on the cosmological argument demonstrably do not know what they are talking about. This includes all the prominent New Atheist writers. It very definitely includes most of the people who hang out in Jerry Coyne’s comboxes. It also includes most scientists. And it even includes many theologians and philosophers, or at least those who have not devoted much study to the issue. This may sound arrogant, but it is not. You might think I am saying “I, Edward Feser, have special knowledge about this subject that has somehow eluded everyone else.” But that is NOT what I am saying. The point has nothing to do with me. What I am saying is pretty much common knowledge among professional philosophers of religion (including atheist philosophers of religion), who – naturally, given the subject matter of their particular philosophical sub-discipline – are the people who know more about the cosmological argument than anyone else does.
Presumably, he is talking about people like Victor Stenger’s young new atheists. Here’s a sample claim and a suggested response:
2. “What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the [cosmological] argument.
Part of the reason this is not a serious objection is that it usually rests on the assumption that the cosmological argument is committed to the premise that “Everything has a cause,” and as I’ve just said, this is simply not the case. But there is another and perhaps deeper reason.
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.
– “So you think you understand the cosmological argument?” (July 16, 2011)
Feser’s likely wasted on Coyne’s trollbox, but many others can benefit.
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Hat tip: Wintery Knight