Journal Article

A new critique of theological interpretations of physical cosmology

A Grünbaum

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 51, issue 1, pages 1-43
Published in print March 2000 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online March 2000 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/51.1.1
A new critique of theological interpretations of physical cosmology

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This paper is a sequel to my 'Theological Misinterpretations of Current Physical Cosmology' (Foundations of Physics [1996], 26 (4); revised in Philo [10998], 1 (1)). There I argued that the Big Bang models of (classical) general relativity theory, as well as the original 1948 versions of the steady state cosmology, are each logically incompatible with the time-honored theological doctrine that perpetual divine creation (creatio continuans') is required in each of these two theorized worlds. Furthermore, I challenged the perennial theological doctrine that there must be a divine creative cause (as distinct from a transformative one) for the very existence of the world, a ratio essendi. This doctrine is the theistic reply to the question: 'Why is there something, rather than just nothing?'

I begin my present paper by arguing against the response by the contemporary Oxford theist Richard Swinburne and by Leibniz to what is, in effect, my counter-question: 'But why should there by just nothing, rather than something?' Their response takes the form of claiming that the a priori probability of there being just nothing, vis-à-vis the existence of alternative states, is maximal, because the non-existence of the world is conceptually the simplest. On the basis of an analysis of the role of simplicity in scientific explanations, I show that this response is multiply flawed, and thus provides no basis for their three contentions that (i) if there is a world at all, then its 'normal', natural, spontaneous state is one of utter nothingness or total non-existence, so that (ii) the very existence of matter, energy and living beings constitutes a deviation from the allegedly 'normal', spontaneous state of 'nothingness', and (iii) that deviation must thus have a suitably potent (external) divine cause. Related defects turn out to vitiate the medieval Kalam Argument for the existence of God, as espoused by William Craig.

Next I argue against the contention by such theists as Richard Swinburne and Philip L. Quinn that (i) the specific content of the scientifically most fundamental laws of nature, including the constants they contain, requires supra-scientific explanation, and (ii) a satisfactory explanation is provided by the hypothesis that the God of theism willed them to be exactly what they are.

Furthermore, I contend that the theistic teleological gloss on the 'Anthropic Principle' is incoherent and explanatorily unavailing.

Finally, I offer an array of considerations against Swinburne's attempt to show, via Bayes's theorem, that the existence of God is more probable than not.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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