Is it “Special Pleading” to Propose an Eternal God?

The Twitter conversation was a fun and polite exchange of opposing views.

We had been talking about “fine-tuning,” the observation that many coincidences have occurred to set the initial conditions and the subsequent nature of the universe to allow life to exist. I pointed out that there are three options to understand this observation. Either, the universe simply HAS to be this way by necessity, or we just lucked out by chance, or it was designed to be this way intentionally. As he homed in on his own explanation for fine-tuning, my friend seemed to like the idea of a multiverse. I think he was saying this:

“An increasing number of universe would give the probabilistic resources to allow our particular universe to eventually appear. We just happen to live in a life permitting universe. We know the universe exists, things happen by chance and the idea of a multiverse is rational. A God that we cannot prove either way is just not a good explanation of the universe.”

I pointed out a problem with this idea. In the same way that cosmologists tell us that our universe required precise initial conditions to form, a multiverse would also require its own set of precise initial conditions. And so the fine-tuning problem returns. Who or what fine-tuned the multiverse to eventually form a life permitting universe? The idea that the cosmos created itself from nothing is just an incoherent idea. “Not if the multiverse is eternal,” he replied. “In that case, it has always existed and so there are no initial conditions to be concerned with. The universe never had any.”

I replied. “But you are suggesting the existence of an actual infinite in nature. The problem is, natural infinities cannot exist.” He shot back. “But Stuart, you have claimed God created the universe and he is eternal. Your God would therefore be infinite. You have just claimed that actual infinities do not exist! You are therefore engaged in a special pleading fallacy, Stuart. So, I don’t find your argument convincing at all.” I explained why God must be a special case in this discussion, and then we parted on good terms. As I reflected, a few things occurred to me about our exchange of views.

First – what actually is this informal fallacy that he leveled at me – special pleading? We are at risk of this type of fallacy when we apply principles or rules to other people, yet refuse to also apply them to an area of interest to ourselves. But there’s a big caveat to this statement. If we provide sufficient reason to support the exception we are making, we aren’t guilty of the special pleading fallacy.[1] Usually people who fall into special pleading have simply got a blind spot when it comes to themselves, and they don’t even attempt to formulate an argument for a special case to be made! It’s laziness. As I thought about our conversation, it occurred to me that I had tried very hard indeed to explain my understanding of God and why he can be eternal while natural infinities do not exist. I sure wasn’t being lazy as we spoke.

So – I would ask the question – who is it that may be guilty of special pleading in our discussion?

Second – there is abundant evidence that the Universe is not eternal, but rather has a finite age. I summarise some of this evidence in this blog. While for many centuries human’s have assumed the universe is eternally existing, evidence was gathered in the 20th century that point to the conclusion that this is not the case. It is generally inferred from the data that the age of the universe is around 14 billion years old. The universe is not eternally existing. It had a beginning called the big bang.

Third – it is generally agreed among cosmologists that any universe, or multiverse, which is expanding must therefore have a beginning. We infer that the universe is expanding based on the cosmological data we gather. The multiverse is simply a theory at this point, but the working theories around bubble universes would suppose an expanding multiverse and so the same rule would apply. The multiverse would not be eternal, it would also have a beginning.

Fourth – my friend seems to assume that God’s nature is comparable to the nature of objects and beings that we find within nature. And so, when I say natural infinities do not exist, I am inconsistent by failing to applying these arguments to an eternal God who I claim is infinite. But this seems a very odd thing for my friend to claim! It makes me think that his view of God is more akin to the mythical Greek gods, Thor, Zeus and Apollo, than the Christian conception of God I’ve been talking about.

A powerful being who inhabits the universe like we do is not the Christian conception of God at all. Because God created the universe, he is therefore immaterial, timeless and space-less. He would by definition exist outside of nature, and so he is not subject to the constraints within nature. That is, unless he chose to enter nature and visit with people as a human being. Also – as he is eternal, then unlike the universe which does have a starting point, by definition God does not have a point of creation.

 

Conclusion

SO – is it special pleading to appeal to God as the eternal/infinite designer?

No, because God is by definition the ultimate exception to all the rules that operate within the universe he caused. He defined and set these rules in motion. To suggest that he is constrained by these rules himself is to misunderstand the Christian conception of God. I’m not dealing in double standards here. Rather, I’m saying you cannot compare apples and oranges. They are two very different things. God is necessarily a special case in our discussion of nature.

 

Of course, my friend may disagree that this is a sufficient reason for treating God as a special case, so I am special pleading. But in doing so, he seems to be stuck with the idea of an eternal multiverse. Were he to stay there, he would distance himself from the most reasonable inferences made by most scientists today. Namely, that the universe had a beginning, and therefore it is not eternal. But then he is making an exception of his idea.  Does he have a sufficient reason for doing so? If not, it may just be his thinking that is logically fallacious.

[1] T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments, 3rd edition, 122-123, summarised.

 

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Respond

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

7 thoughts on “Is it “Special Pleading” to Propose an Eternal God?”

  1. “No, because God is by definition the ultimate exception to all the rules that operate within the universe he caused. He defined and set these rules in motion. To suggest that he is constrained by these rules himself is to misunderstand the Christian conception of God. I’m not dealing in double standards here. Rather, I’m saying you cannot compare apples and oranges. They are two very different things. God is necessarily a special case in our discussion of nature.”

    and that is exactly what special pleading is, trying to make believe that some god is an exception. There is no evidence for a god at all, much less that it somehow set and defined the rules.

    The laws of physics can be just as “eternal” as your god. At this point, we don’t know how the universe started or even if it truly started or this is part of a cycle.

    You are dealing in double standards, despite your protestations you are not. Per the bible, this god is limited by time and space. it is only modern Christians who have tried to invent a new god that isn’t.

    1. Ok – please don’t hide behind “can.” Please show me that the Universe has existed eternally – or if you can’t, explain why the beginning of the universe does NOT allow us to infer the existence of God as it’s designer? Saying “I don’t like God” is not a suitable answer to this question.

      Also – show me how and where the Bible defines God as someone who is limited in time and space. Thanks!

      1. It’s not hiding at all. It is a fact that we don’t know either way but we do have evidence that the laws of physics are all that is needed for the universe to start or to perhaps restart. What we do know is that none of the essential events in the bible can be shown to have happened. No magical flood, no creation of light before sources of light, no exodus, no resurrection.

        You want to claim that your version of the Christian god is the “designer”. Okay, then show this is the case and it isn’t any other creator god. You see, “respond”, you have no more evidence than other theists do, so I have no need to believe any of you.

        I didn’t say I don’t like god, but nice strawman.

        You haven’t read your bible have you? This god is limited to time and space since it is limited by prophecies (assuming those are true), e.g. “if “y” happens, then god must do “x” . We also have this god having to travel to places to see things and having to wait for humans to do things before it can do anything. This god doesn’t know things it can’t see (Genesis 3). God makes clothes and interacts with the physical. God wanders off and has no idea that the “sons of god” are screwing around on earth and then claims he “regrets” making humans, a regret needs change and no omniscience. A being outside of time cannot know when to begin something or when to end it.

        This god supposedly enjoys the smell of burnt meat, and wants gold and silver and fancy dyed leather. This god is afraid of a physical tower. God and his angels need blood to show them who are the jews are who aren’t so they won’t kill them. God has a physical presence “9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.” – Exodus 24

        The bible can claim that this god is “timeless” and outside of space, but the actions of this god refute that claim, making this god just another invention of bronze/iron age humans.

      2. I’m sorry – physical laws do not cause anything to happen. They describe what DOES happen. Physical laws do not cause the universe to start or restart. They are the behaviour of nature within the universe itself. Care to have another go?

        Sorry – start at Genesis 1:1. It makes the point that God is an external creator. Everything else the Bible says must be interpreted from this perspective. Unless you want to do violence to the text – lol. This is called hermeneutics.

        “You don’t like God” as a straw man? Oh – I think I’ve described the tone of your continual attitude to my blog posts very well 😀

        Happy 2020 by the way!

      3. Nope, we have equations that describe physical laws which do make things happen. The weak force, the strong force, etc and no evidence for a god of any type making anything happen at all.

        You have no evidence for your declarations, “respond”. Nothing at all to support this ignorant claim “Physical laws do not cause the universe to start or restart.” Heck, if yuo can support this, then you should be able to get a Nobel Prize. You can’t.

        A story isn’t real, “respond”. That the story of genesis says something doesn’t make it true. There is nothing in “In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters.” that says that this god is an external creator. You’ve added that since you want to create excuses for your god.

        And funny how I’m not adding anythign to the text, you are. Hermaneutics aka the need for a modern Christian to make up things to cover up the failures of ignorant theists from the bronze and iron ages. You have to intentionally ignore what I’ve posted to keep your version, don’t you? This bible has repeatedly a god that is physical and limited.

        Please do explain how a god outside of time and space can do any of the things the bible claims this god does.

      4. So – you’ve gone from asserting the universe CAN be eternal, to now supposing that natural law and the forces these laws describe – can act as a cause of the non-eternal universe. Can you see the confusion of ideas here? Quite apart from swinging from eternal to not-eternal, you sound like you want to describe metaphysics (what is nature and how did it happen) with physics (how nature behaves). It’s nonsense. Sorry – it just is.

        For God to create the heavens and the earth, he cannot be contained within the heavens and the earth. A thing cannot create itself. You get that would be a logical contradiction – right? For a thing to create X it must previously exist. It therefore cannot BE X. Does that make sense?

        I in no way need to describe a mechanism God used to create the universe. It’s not necessary to understand mechanism in the detection of agency. You get that – right? Archaeologists do this all the time.

      5. oh my. nice try but no. The universe can be caused by the laws of physics. We have no idea if they are part of the universe or a multiverse or out in “quantum foam”. The universe doesn’t have to be eternal for the laws of physics to be. There is no confusion but on your part.

        You want to claim an eternal god and a non-eternal universe so surprise, you have caused your own confusion.

        No need for metaphysics, yet more baseless nonsense. That’s your religion, trying to claim what nature is and that your god and only your god made it happen. The laws of physics fit quite well the question: “how did it happen?”.

        Again, nothing but your “nuh-uh” says that a god has to exist or create anything. You have a presupposition that a god must exist since your self-worth is bound up in thinking some god cares for you and agrees with you.

        As the laws of physics seems to indicate, something can indeed come from nothing and we have the experimental data showing this. And nope, it’s not a logical contradiction. You only hope it is since you need a job for your god. Nope you don’t make sense at all.

        Yep, you do need to describe how your version of the Christian god did something you claim it did. You can’t so there is no reason to think your baseless claim to be right. One does have to understand the mechanism in the detection of agency when a claimant is making the silly claim magic was involved. Archaeologists don’t assume magic.

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