Atheism’s Response to Apologetics by Duncan Ryan. A reply… Part 1

…because “response” would be redundant.

I thought the title, Atheism’s Response to Apologetics was intriguing so I downloaded it and began reading.

One the positive side, I appreciate Ryan’s tone in that he is taking the arguments seriously, and not only engages them, but his expressed hope is to sharpen them.

Argument 1. Infinite regress

As stated by Ryan, the argument is confusing at best. I won’t fault him for this since his stated goal is to respond to poor arguments. However, since his response is often employed against stronger forms, it needs to be addressed on its own merits.

It should be noted that Ryan’s statement, “the most compelling argument for the existence of something supernatural that by definition, must exist outside existence itself” is question-begging. That is, to say that something that exists beyond the limits of the material universe is “outside existence itself” is to simply reassert that the material universe is all that exists. This is the fallacy of circular reasoning.

“The first problem with this theory is that it assumes only two possibilities: either that there must be an infinite chain of causes, or that the first cause must not have been caused.”(Kindle location 30) This is hardly a problem. Effects have causes. Either the universe is an effect or not. You could posit an eternal universe, but this is no better than an infinite regress. All of Ryan’s alternatives appeal to the possibility of an infinite state or regress of events. For example: “there is a very definite possibility that linear time did not exist prior to the Big Bang, and that causality is we know it would have been an inapplicable concept.” (37) What alternative concept would Ryan offer? It seems, on the standard model that not only did time not exist but neither did anything else. Is it his contention that in this circumstance the universe could have sprang into existence from nothing uncaused? The other alternatives Ryan offers entail infinite regress. There’s just no avoiding the dilemma.

Ryan’s notes the idea that an uncaused God is a problem for the argument as stated “everything has a cause ” however his claim “but the argument for the necessity of a god as a first cause fails to hold water.” (49) is only true in response to the claim “everything has a cause.” However, when the stronger claim “Everything that begins to exist has a cause,” his response would be inadequate, given the problem of the infinite regress, and the classical understanding of God as being self existent. Such an unchanging being can exist exist in a timeless state without the universe.

Ryan asks why such a cause must be a god. Since we are talking about the origin of all matter, energy, space and time, whatever the cause was had to be immaterial, nonspatial, and (without the universe) timeless. Moreover, since an eternally existing set of necessary conditions carries the same problems as an infinite regress, the cause would have to be personal, meaning it had to have the ability to create or not to create. In other words, a will. Something with a will is called a person. This would mean the cause of the beginning of the universe would be immaterial, spaceless, timeless, personal, and extremely powerful. Such a being is typically what is referred to as God.

Ryan correctly points out that the argument tells us nothing (except what is noted above) about the nature of God. However the God described above is quite consistent with that of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. That is all that is claimed by the argument.

Am I missing something here?

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