Last night I watched the first part of a debate between William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll. Craig is a Christian philosopher and apologist who has dealt with cosmology, and Carroll is a physicist and cosmologist who has spoken against God. Today I watched a Youtube video of Carroll giving a talk where he gave similar explanations.
One of Carroll’s points is that if God existed, we would have expected the universe to turn out differently. He mentions a scientific point of the entropy rate of the early universe, but then quickly lists as evidence the existence of evil and random suffering. Carroll goes on to say that if God existed, He would have given us a specific, clear list of instructions on how we should live, how we should treat each other, and instructions on such things as how atoms are structured. “It might not be easy to follow the instructions, but it would be easy to know what the instructions were.” If God existed, “He would explain Himself to us very clearly.” That we have such a world as we actually observe, says Carroll, is evidence that God does not exist, for He would not have created a world as we see today.
To summarize Carroll’s argument, he is saying that we have a way that we would expect God to act, we do not see this way universally throughout the universe, so we have evidence against the existence of God.
Sean Carroll is a very smart and intelligent man. He has a Ph.D from Harvard and is well versed in theoretical cosmology, a field that requires rigorous study. However, his arguments presented here are not good, and in fact fail quite largely and demonstrably.
He tells us that if God existed, we would expect God to act differently. This presumes to know how and why an all wise, all knowing God would act. A glaring problem with this is that we do not even know why we act the way we do ourselves. We all find ourselves shouting out in frustration, “Why did I do such a thing?” We say hurtful things to those we love, we commit acts we cannot justify to ourselves or to others, and we cannot explain our motives. We cannot even truly explain why we prefer red to chartreuse, or chocolate over vanilla. Further, we do not know why other humans do what they do. We merely know what we do, not what our motivations are. We can take some good guesses about some of the actions of others, saying “She fed that dog because she always has compassion on starving animals.” But we do not know why she has compassion for animals and does not spend her time creating artwork. We just know that she does.
So how can Carroll honestly expect us to believe that we would know how an infinite God would act? We can no more predict how God would act than we can predict, upon the birth of a baby, that because the parents both regularly attend opera then the child will also. Such an argument of Carroll amounts to no more than a “It seems to me . . .” type argument, one based on personal opinion, not empirical fact. It is mere opinion presented in persuasive language, not even logical, let alone scientific.
As an example, Carroll says that if God existed, God should tell us “governments should derive their power from the consent of the governed.” But why is this so? Is it not the case that Carroll prefers this type of government because he was raised in the west? Why would it not be the case that, as Aristotle held, that the educated should govern over those who are incapable of understanding the issues, and do not know what is good? It seems to Carroll that governments should be this way, but as an argument against God, it fails completely.
Further, his arguments are not even correct. God has indeed revealed to us what He is like, and rather clearly. In Isaiah chapters 40 to 50, God spends quite a bit of time telling us what He is like. It is not complex nor hidden.
Carroll asks for God to reveal clear, unambiguous rules for how we ought to treat each other. Perhaps the ten commandments? If we showed him “thou shalt not steal” and “treat others as you would have them treat you” would this be sufficient? In fact, we have exactly what Carroll asks for, a clear set of instructions that God has given us to tell us how to treat each other. Carroll is right about one thing: It is easier to understand the rules than to keep them. In this regard he is a good theologian.
Further supporting his argument, Carroll says the following as a logical support against God:
Imagine you are a theologian in a world where there wasn’t evil or random suffering and where God had given perfectly clear instructions. There were holy scriptures that said ‘be nice to each other.’ If you were that theologian, would you take the absence of injustice in the world as evidence against the existence of God? I think you would not. I think you would say ‘this is what I would expect God to do. He made a just society for us.’ If you wouldn’t count the absence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God, then you should count the presence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God.
I find it interesting that he holds his views as evidence supporting a reasonable argument against God. Many atheists are quick to tell us that such arguments are impossible to make, so they hold the burden of proof to always be on the theist. Indeed, they tell us that atheists do not have evidence nor even make a truth claim. But if it is impossible to argue against the existence of God, no one seems to have told this to Sean Carroll. I take his arguments as a disproof for the atheist claim that no one can present an argument against the existence of God, and a disproof that atheists never make truth claims.
Let’s set aside the fact that there are holy scriptures that say exactly what he asks for, and apply his argument and see how it holds. He is trying to say that the injustice in the world is evidence against God. But what of this? We do indeed have the concept of justice in the world. We are not stuck with mere amoral chemical reactions, but we have the ability to distinguish between good and evil, as proven by Carroll making his argument. So while it is true evil exists, it is also true that good exists, in the form of love, bravery, courage, and justice. It is not the case that only evil exists, but that some evil exists. If we use Carroll’s own criteria, the existence of good in the world is then evidence for the existence of God.
The moral argument for the existence of God does NOT argue that only good exists in the world; the existence of some evil cannot disprove the argument for God. Rather, it argues that since good exists at all, and since there are moral laws that exist, then there is an ultimate Good, a moral lawgiver.
Think of it this way. Carroll says “If you wouldn’t count the absence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God, then you should count the presence of injustice as evidence against the existence of God.” Using this same line of reasoning, Carroll is forced to say that 1) the presence of justice in any form, and 2) our ability to tell the difference between justice and injustice, are both evidence for the existence of God. If Carroll debates 1), he is saying “it seems to me” that God would have less injustice in the world, a purely subjective argument. If he debates 2), he has no metaphysical legs to stand on, coming from a purely materialistic worldview. Indeed, in the talks I have seen, he does not address the presence of good in a purely material world.
But it gets worse. In Carroll’s hypothetical God-infused world, he says that if we were consistent, we would “count the lack of injustice in the world as evidence against the existence of God.” The first problem with this is a misunderstanding of the nature of evil. Evil cannot exist on its own, but only as a lack of good, such as rot can only exist as an absence of good wood. Pure injustice cannot exist, but only a bastardization of justice. Second, it is unclear how such an argument could ever be proved. By Carroll’s own definition, the God he speaks of is a good God; how would the presence of evil prove such a God existed? Is it not the case that theists now claim that God exists and evil also, and there is no contradiction? What would be the evidence that decided the argument? If it were an evil God, the hypothetical world would not exist. When unpacked, this line of reasoning turns to hollow persuasion, not logical argument.
Carroll’s statements leave the field of his scientific expertise and enter the world of philosophy and argumentation. He would do much better to stick with his theoretical calculations and leave the arguments against God to others. Indeed, he would be better to spend a quiet afternoon reading the book he seems to wish existed, the Bible.