by Rich Davis
In a chapter entitled “Anti-Apologetics 101,” atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian claims that “[t]he best argument I’ve heard for the existence of God” goes like this:
An atheist…doesn’t just believe that man and woman came into being without a Creator, but that all of creation did…His faith is much greater than mine (148-149).
Now, as it stands, this isn’t much of an argument. Nothing to rival, say, the extended proofs given by Anselm, Samuel Clarke, or Richard Swinburne. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when we are told that the argument is due (not to a professional philosopher), but rather a Christian minister: Ray Comfort. If this is the “best” argument Boghossian’s ever heard, I would suggest reading around a bit more in the literature. Why consult Comfort when you have the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology at hand? Wouldn’t that be like turning to Ricky Gervais for the “best” atheism has to offer instead of Oppy or Rowe? In any event, Boghossian’s conclusion is predictably negative: this “trump card played by believers…doesn’t work” (A Manual for Creating Atheists, 149). Unfortunately, I’m afraid, neither do the reasons he gives for thinking it doesn’t.
Is Nothingness Natural?
So why think Comfort’s argument, as patchy as it is, doesn’t work? Boghossian takes its central thrust to be a response to
QUESTION: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’
Given that something (contingent) does exist, what is the reason or explanation for that state of affairs? Contingent things don’t have to exist. So why do they? What is the cause or reason or ground of their existence (as Clarke would have said)? Surely they cannot come from nothing. Nor can they be self-caused.
Here there are “several related ways to respond,” says Boghossian. Following Adolph Grunbaum, The eminent philosopher of science, we might deny that nothing is the default position:
Why be astonished at being at all. To marvel at existence is to assume that nothingness is somehow more natural, more restful. But why? The ancients started with matter, not the void. Perhaps nothingness is stranger than being (Holt 2012).
Maybe something is the default position, “with nothing being the truly extraordinary thing” (149). For perhaps our universe has always existed either in the form of “one endless time loop with big bangs strung together for eternity” (ibid) or perhaps “we’re part of a larger multiverse with an infinite number of Big Bangs constantly occurring” (ibid).
And then even if we must explain why something exists rather than nothing, that doesn’t give us “license to make up answers” or to “pretend to know an answer to something we don’t actually know” (ibid). Better to just say, “I don’t know.”
Is Comfort Correct? Grunbaum’s Gambit
There are a number of misunderstandings to sort out here. First, Grunbaum’s little argument—taken as an attempt to reduce QUESTION to a non-starter—is logically unsound. It goes roughly as follows…
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