Carmen Bertuzzi is a Christian apologist with a YouTube channel called “Capturing Christ”. On Twitter he recently linked to a video, entitled “No, There’s No Special Pleading”, where he attempts to defend the long-debunked Kalam Cosmological Argument in response to a video by another YouTuber, Stephen Woodford of Rationality Rule, that demonstrates the fallacies of special pleading, false premises and argument from ignorance (god of the gaps). Bertuzzi accuses Woodford of creating strawmen and fallacious arguments as he merely repeats the ham-handed sophistry of the strawmen and fallacies of William Lane Craig and Edward Feser. I asked Bertuzzi for an opportunity to debate his claims but got no response. It appears he prefers to respond in videos where he is protected from counterargument. Now that I created this blog, I might as well reply here. Everybody, including Bertuzzi, is welcome to reply here. First, it will be useful to watch Bertuzzi’s short video:
He starts his attempted refutation of special pleading with an anodyne description of this fallacy as an exception to a generally accepted rule without justification comprising three elements:
Bertuzzi takes William Lane Craig’s version of the Kalam, which goes:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause;
- The universe began to exist;
- Therefore.: the universe has a cause.
This first stage argument is an obvious case of special pleading when seen in light of the Aristotelian argument of prime mover on which it is based. Aristotle attempted to solve the problem of infinite regress of causality by positing an unmoved first mover. In this form, the special pleading is easy to describe:
General Rule: Everything that exists has a cause
Exception: The universe was caused by an unmoved mover (uncaused cause)
Explanation: The world must have had a first cause.
The problem is Aristotle’s claim that everything has a cause was based on observation. The exception is exceptional because based on observation no such thing exists. The justification is really a circular restatement of the major premise which is no more than a metaphysical supposition. But since we cannot observe any unmoved mover, we can equally posit other unobservable metaphysical propositions, such as: since we have never seen anything being created, but only transformed, creation is impossible, and the matter and energy of our universe simply always existed. Nobody knows if that is true, but it is at least as plausible as an unmoved mover, even more so as we need not introduce another metaphysical being.
The Kalam revision enables Craig, Feser, and others to slip in a claim of category error by changing the issue of observable causality and the implied problem of infinite regress to an issue of divinity. Aristotle was trying to solve a proto-scientific problem of infinite regress. Apologists are trying to formulate a proof of god. Their seemingly slight alteration to “everything that begins to exist” from “everything that exists” allows them to perform the sleight of hand by implying that if there are things that begin to exist there must also be something that always existed. The category error they claim is that we cannot apply observable generalities to a non-observable god. But in so doing, they disclose the circularity of their reasoning. The underlying reason for assuming the unmoved mover was to resolve a problem existing in our observable universe. The claim of the apologists comes down to: we posit something unobservable and the way we define this metaphysical proposition precludes you from criticizing it. Left unsaid is that it also precludes any compelling reason to accept it.
Feser and others resorted to the claim of category error because modern physics obliterates the premises that everything that exists has a cause and that the universe necessarily had a beginning. Theirs was a desperate attempt to put a protective wall around their argument. Since they aren’t really able to counter 21st century scientific discovery, they had no alternative but to claim it is irrelevant because they are talking about the category of divinity and nothing from the category of science can relate to that discussion. The dishonesty of this stance was revealed, however, when we brought to light the scientific basis of Aristotle’s original formulation which started the unmoved mover argument in the first place. The weakness of their position ultimately forces them to attempt to counter to the science anyway, as Bertuzzi does in this next step. Their poor or non-existent understanding of the physics, along with the weakness of their positions inevitably leads to appeal to ignorance, as we shall see.
Woodford begins to address the pertinent physics by noting a statement by physicist Sean Carroll that “Our understanding of the current laws of physics give out at that moment in time.” Specifically, we can model the universe all the way back to the 10-43 second after the Big Bang, after which central aspects, such as time and gravity, compute as infinite. Almost all physicists interpret that to mean that what existed prior to the big bang was absent our physical laws and time, and therefore unknowable. The major and very important exception is Roger Penrose, who believes those calculations are accurately describing the infinity of the universe going backward, which goes through endless re-birthing of the universe, and that our laws of physics and time always existed. Either way, we either can know nothing of the state of existence before the Big Bang other than that our physical laws and time were not present, rendering the idea of prime mover nonsensical, or there was no beginning which again renders prime mover moot.
Faced with this conundrum, Bertuzzi falsely accuses Woodford of the fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam by ignoring the reasoning behind Caroll’s claim and counters with a physicist he naively believes to be a counter-example : He quotes Alexander Valenkin: “The answer to the question ‘did the universe have a beginning?’ is, ‘It probably did’. Without any evidence other than the claim there is no basis for such a model.”
Bertuzzi fails to recognize that the beginning of the universe is not the same question as the beginning of the stuff of the universe – the singularity before the Big Bang. Bertuzzi might be shocked to learn that in his book: Many worlds in One: The search for other universes, Valenkin presents the multiverse theory positing that the stuff of the universe is eternal and produces many universes out of quantum fields in a vacuum, each with unique laws, particles, and structures. While each universe has a beginning, the stuff of these universes always existed. He would be further surprised to learn that Valenkin does not believe in a personal god, finds the idea of a more abstract god pointless, and believes the laws of nature are adequate to explain existence.
After making this poor choice of counter-example, he flails even more desperately by claiming that Christians have a duty to reject the notion that causality cannot occur without time and space, thereby reclaiming the possibility of prime mover, on the basis of biblical scripture and points to the existence of angels as proof. I need add no more.
Argument From Ignorance
Inevitably, Bertuzzi retreats to god of the gaps after all. He begins with Craig’s second stage argument:
The universe has a cause of its beginning.
Therefore:This cause must be:
As we have seen, the conclusions are not tenable. We don’t know if the universe understood as the state of existence before the Big Bang had a beginning. There are plausible theories of how our universe came about through natural causes. The conclusion that the cause was personal appears out of nowhere and is not only unsupported but unsupportable. Perhaps sensing the impotence of Craig’s second stage argument, Bertuzzi offers his own:
1. If the cause of the universe were non personal, then classical spacetime would either not exist at all or be infinitely old.
2. This thing has been either creating universes over an infinite amount of time or not at all.
3. Science explains the world according to the laws of nature, but the beginning of the universe is the beginning of the laws of nature.
4. In other words, you can’t use science to explain the beginning of the universe. You have to use a person if you’re going to use anything at all.
5, Classical spacetime exists and is not infinitely old.
6. The cause of the universe is personal.
And there we have god of the gaps. Science can’t explain it so it must be god. Bertuzzi might protest that he provided an argument to prove his “it must be god”, but he has done no such thing. He begins by picking up from Craig’s odd conclusion of “personal” and descends from there. He bases his conclusion on the assertion that without “person” classical spacetime could not exist. In a way he wouldn’t expect, he’s probably right about that, but it reveals another gap in his understanding. It was Einstein who first described spacetime in The Special Theory of Relativity. The big problem here for Bertuzzi is Einstein didn’t believe time exists at all but was merely our subjective way of intuiting the universe. For Einstein, past, present and future existed as a static simultaneous unity outside time. But if Bertuzzi insists that if the cause of the universe were non-personal, then classical spacetime would either not exist at all or be infinitely old, I won’t argue. Einstein said it has no existence outside our subjective sense, and Penrose calculates the universe is infinitely old.