200 (or so) Arguments for Atheism

A popular view in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion is that while there are many arguments[1] for theism -- cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments; moral arguments; arguments from consciousness; etc. (by Plantinga's lights, two dozen or so), there are only two arguments for atheism[2], viz., the problem of evil and (more recently) the problem of divine hiddenness. Indeed, some argue that the problem of divine hiddenness reduces to a version of the problem of evil, and thus that there is only one argument -- or at most, one category of argument -- for atheism.

This is a misconception. Here are over 200 arguments for atheism, spanning 28 categories:

I. Cosmological-Type Arguments
1. Epicurean cosmological arguments for naturalism 
2. The argument from metaphysical infinitism/coherentism

II. Ontological-Type Arguments
17. A minimal modal ontological argument for naturalism
18. Quantum modal realist ontological argument for naturalism

IV. Dysteleological Arguments
29. The argument from suboptimal design

V. Arguments from Religion/Religious Experience
34. The argument from idolatry

VIII. Arguments from Consciousness and Personhood
72. The argument from substance dualism to non-theism

X. Arguments from Reason

XI. Arguments from Logic

XIII. Arguments from the Nature of Causation
XIV. Nomological Arguments

XV. Arguments from General Ontology, Metaphysics, and Metametaphysics (that Don't Fit Neatly Into other Categories)

XVI. Epistemological Arguments
104. The argument from theism to radical skepticism
109, 110. The problem(s) of religious luck
111. The argument from Mandevillian intelligence
112. The argument from secondary qualities against the reliability of perception
113. The argument from Bayesian theories of perception (esp. prediction error minimization theories)
114. The argument from wave function realism against the reliability of perception
115. The problem of theistic evidentialist philosophers

XVII. Arguments from Aesthetics
116. The argument from ugliness
117. The argument from revulsion

XVIII. Normative Arguments (Apart from problems of evil)
118. The argument from the impropriety of worship
119. The argument from autonomy 

XIX. Arguments from Divine Hiddenness and Non-Belief
122. Deductive arguments from divine hiddenness
123. Probabilistic arguments from divine hiddenness
125. Drange's argument from non-belief

XX. Arguments from Incoherence Within/Among the Divine Attributes and Related Matters (Incomplete. These just scratch the surface. For more, see e.g. Oppy's Describing Gods)
126. Omnipotence (see also)
127. Omniscience (see also)
129. Beauty
130. Omnipresence
132. Eternity

XXI. Arguments from Lower Comparative Prior Probability

XXII. Arguments from Explanatory Inferiority 

XXIII. Arguments from Rival Supernaturalisms and/or Worldviews with Equal or Greater Explanatory Power and Related Matters
160. The problem of classical deism
178. The problem of the inclusive disjunction of rival supernaturalisms/worldviews

XXIV. Arguments from the Success of Naturalistic Explanations

XXV. Arguments from Private Evidence
180. Bartolome's argument from private evidence

XXVI. Arguments from Evil 
(See also these collections on problems of evil) 

XXVII. Pragmatic/Prudential Arguments
XVIII. Cumulative case/Combinatorial Arguments
233. Oppy’s abductive cumulative case argument for naturalism
237. Various cumulative IBE arguments from large conjunctive disjuncts of 1-229.

Some things worthy of note. First, there are very many more arguments for atheism than commonly supposed. Second, while categorization is inevitably somewhat arbitrary, there are clearly very many more types of atheistic arguments than commonly supposed -- on my reckoning, 27 other types of atheistic argument besides the problem of evil. Third, the list doesn't include arguments specifically against orthodox Christianity. If it did, the list would be considerably longer. Fourth, roughly 75-80% of atheistic arguments have nothing to do with the problem of evil -- problems of evil are in the minority. 

Fifth, the evidence against theism appears to be systemic -- it provides non-trivial grounds for thinking the data from virtually every major aspect of reality (e.g.: the origin, existence, and structure of the universe; consciousness; agency; morality and moral psychology; reason; logic; abstract objects; the nature of causation; the laws of nature; epistemology; religions, religious practices, and religious experience; aesthetics; the meaning of life; general ontology, metaphysics, and meta-metaphysics; and yes, suffering and hiddenness, too) points away from theism and towards some form of naturalism. One can cull very large subsets of compatible arguments from the list above to generate a variety of large abductive cumulative case arguments. Prima facie, there is very strong promise that when this is done, naturalism will embody the theoretical virtues (e.g., simplicity, scope, conservatism, etc.) better than orthodox theism. I would argue that this remains so even after throwing in all the viable data points standardly appealed to in the case for theism, in which case the relevant data renders a form of naturalism more probable than orthodox theism.  (A similar point applies to taking all these data points to run a comprehensive Bayesian argument for naturalism.)

Sixth, the previous points constitute non-trivial grounds for thinking the case for atheism doesn't essentially depend on the success of the problem of evil and hiddenness, in which case theists have much more work to do besides addressing those arguments. 

Finally, most people who care about arguments for and against theism are adherents of some form of orthodox religious monotheism or other. Among such groups, it's typically thought that the case for their faith must be persuasive, such that no (or almost no) mature, rational, properly functioning human being who appraised the relevant evidence could non-culpably fail to believe after assessing it (on the grounds that (i) God holds people morally responsible for their belief, and (ii) God would be less than perfectly good if he held people morally responsible for their belief if the evidence were less than persuasive). Thus, consider some rational, mature, properly functioning adult agnostic, Joewho has strongly grasped, internalized, and carefully appraised the above arguments, as well as all the arguments for theism on the other side of the ledger. Suppose further that after long and careful reflection, Joe finds the grounds for atheism to be either stronger than those for theism, or at least, counterbalanced with them. Finally, suppose that Joe thereby either disbelieves or suspends judgement about theism. According to the group of theists specified just above, there can be no one like Joe: The evidence for orthodox monotheism is so good that for any person S, if is a rational, mature, properly functioning agent, and (after careful reflection and deliberation) fails to find the evidence to support theism over atheism, or if S merely finds the evidence to be counterbalanced -- or indeed, if S finds themself unable to tell, with any confidence, which way the evidence points -- then S is morally culpable for failing to believe in the relevant version of orthodox monotheism. In light of the case for atheism expressed in the arguments listed above, this looks to be implausible, if not ridiculous. 

[1] Here and henceforth, I use the notion of an argument broadly, so as to include deductive, inductive, and abductive arguments. I also follow Richard Swinburne in recognizing the distinction between what he calls C-inductive arguments (which are arguments that raise the probabilities of their conclusions at least to some degree, although not necessarily rendering their conclusions more probable than not) and P-inductive arguments (which are arguments that raise the probabilities of their conclusions above 1/2), and include both C-inductive and P-inductive arguments to count as arguments for theism and for atheism.

[2] Here and henceforth, I follow Jeanine Diller and Paul Draper in distinguishing between global atheism (the denial of all gods) and local atheism (denial of a specific god or type of god). I'm taking the arguments in the list below to be arguments for local atheism with respect to the god of orthodox monotheism (although many arguments on the list provide at least some grounds for rejecting at least some other types of gods).

Top 10 Posts of 2018

A Weaker Version of the Principle of Material Causality Gets the Same Result
Wave Function Realism, The Unreliability of Perception, and Theism
Ontological Arguments, Anselmianism, and Irony
Notes on Morriston's "Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang"
Notes on Morriston's "Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?"
Partial Notes: Morriston's "A Critical Evaluation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument"
Notes on Morriston's "Must There Be a Standard of Moral Goodness Apart from God?"
Notes on Ruloff's Papers on Arguments from Propositions and Intentionality to God
Notes Index: Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium
Quote of the Day

and one to ring in the new year:
Three Dozen (or so) Arguments for Atheism

Maitzen on Normative Objections to Theism

Maitzen, Stephen. "Normative Objections to Theism", in Oppy, Graham, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Atheism and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2019).

Linford and Megill's New Paper on Two Underexplored Arguments Against Theism

Linford, Dan and Megill, Jason. "Idolatry, indifference, and the scientific study of religion: two new Humean arguments", Religious Studies (2018), doi:10.1017/S0034412518000653.

Here's the abstract:
We utilize contemporary cognitive and social science of religion to defend a controversial thesis: the human cognitive apparatus gratuitously inclines humans to religious activity oriented around entities other than the God of classical theism. Using this thesis, we update and defend two arguments drawn from David Hume: (i) the argument from idolatry, which argues that the God of classical theism does not exist, and (ii) the argument from indifference, which argues that if the God of classical theism exists, God is indifferent to our religious activity.

"The Will Not to Believe"

...is the title of an intriguing new paper (forthcoming in Sophia) by Joshua Cockayne and Jack Warman. Here's the abstract:
Is it permissible to believe that God does not exist if the evidence is inconclusive? In this paper, we give a new argument in support of atheistic belief modelled on William James’s The Will to Believe. According to James, if the evidence for a proposition, p, is ambiguous, and believing that p is a genuine option, then it can be permissible to let your passions decide. Typically, James’s argument has been used as a defence of passionally caused theistic belief. However, in the existing literature, little attention has been given to topic of passionally caused atheistic belief. Here, we give much needed attention to the issue of how areligious passions can justify atheistic belief. Following James, we argue that if atheism is a genuine option for an agent, it is permissible to believe that God does not exist based on her hopes, desires, wishes, or whatever passions incline her to disbelieve. After defending the coherence of passionally caused atheism, we go on to suggest why this position is a tenable one for the atheist to adopt.

McDaniel's New Critique of Grounding-Based Formulations of PSR

McDaniel, Kris. "The principle of sufficient reason and necessitarianism", Analysis (2018).

Here's the abstract:

Peter van Inwagen (1983: 202–4) presented a powerful argument against the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which I henceforth abbreviate as ‘PSR’. For decades, the consensus was that this argument successfully refuted PSR. However, now a growing consensus holds that van Inwagen’s argument is fatally flawed, at least when ‘sufficient reason’ is understood in terms of ground, for on this understanding, an ineliminable premiss of van Inwagen’s argument is demonstrably false and cannot be repaired. I will argue that this growing consensus is mistaken and that a powerful argument relevantly similar to van Inwagen’s should still concern us, even when we understand ‘sufficient reason’ in terms of ground.

The penultimate draft can be found here.

Ontological Arguments, Anselmianism, and Irony

*Quick thought. For kicks (sort of). In draft.*

Plantinga's modal ontological argument aims to demonstrate the existence of a modally ultimate being, upon which all else depends for its existence. But the argument seems to require an ontologically prior Platonic modal space, of which God's existence is a function (of its existence and structure).[1] To see this, just think about the way in which Plantinga's ontological argument proceeds, and its ontological underpinnings. On such a view, abstract objects are fundamental, and God is an intermediary, derivative layer of reality -- sandwiched between the layers of necessary abstracta and contingent concreta -- contrary to the aims of the argument (and to the Aseity-Sovereignty doctrine).

The theist might try to avoid this implication via theistic activism. But if the theist goes this route, then the bootstrapping problem rears its ugly head, in addition to other problems (e.g., the Benacerraf problem for God's knowledge of abstracta, etc.).  On the other hand, if the theist takes the theistic conceptualist route, then this also leads to the bootstrapping problem and other problems (e.g.,  concepts are concrete, non-repeatable entities, and therefore not suitable to play the role of abstracta).  On yet a third hand, if the theist goes the nominalist or fictionalist route, then the ontological argument fails. But this exhausts the relevant possibilities for the theist regarding abstracta: straight platonism, theistic activism, theistic conceptualism, nominalism, and fictionalism/pretense theory.[2], [3]

There is thus non-trivial pressure to think that Plantinga's ontological argument succeeds only if the being it proves to exist is not ontologically ultimate, but rather one that supervenes on an ontological foundation of platonic modal space.

[1] Rather like a modal analogue of the way in which (some argue that) our universe is a function of the nature and structure of relativistic quantum fields.

[2] Hybrid views tend to take on board the problems of pure views.

[3] Strictly speaking, other views are epistemic possibilities (e.g., structuralism) -- but seem to succumb to similar problems.

[4] Such a being would be what I have elsewhere called a necessary dependent being, and the platonic modal space on which it depends would be what I have elsewhere called a necessary independent being.

Wave Function Realism, The Unreliability of Perception, and Theism

According to a growing chorus of voices (see, e.g., a number of papers in this volume), (i) there are strong grounds for accepting a realist construal of quantum mechanics (QM), and (ii) the most plausible interpretations of QM entail that the wave function is a real entity that exists in a configuration space of very, very many dimensions (about 3x10 to the 80th, according to current estimates). But as David Albert, Alyssa Ney and others have argued, it's not at all clear how the ordinary three dimensions of our experience can be accounted for via this configuration space. But if not, then there is non-trivial epistemic pressure to think the three dimensions of ordinary experience are, in an important sense, mirage-like (L.A. Paul has similar worries, but doesn't explicitly come down on the matter one way or the other. Jill North and Jenann Ismael have stronger suspicions). But if so, then there is non-trivial epistemic pressure to think that ordinary perceptual experience is massively unreliable.

Now according to many theists, if God exists, then God designed us in such a way as to ensure that our perceptual faculties reliably track the truth about the world, where this includes beliefs about the ordinary objects of experience having extension in length, width, and depth. But if the above worry is at all on track, then ordinary perceptual experience is massively unreliable. And if that's right, then something has to give: either (i) theism is false, or (ii) the existence of the God of theism doesn't make it likely that our perceptual faculties are reliable. The first disjunct is of course fatal to theism. The second might well be equally so, given a few more premises concerning God's omni-attributes and a bridge principle from those attributes to the reliability of sense perception. However, even if this can't be done, the second disjunct still causes trouble for a number of theistic apologetic strategies. For example, it would be devastating to Plantinga's theory of warranted Christian belief. Either way, then, if the growing chorus is onto something, troubling epistemic consequences for theism follow.

Notes on Ruloff's Papers on Arguments from Propositions and Intentionality to God

“Divine Thoughts and Fregean Propositional Realism”, IJPoR 76:2 (2014): 41-51.

In this paper, Ruloff critiques Anderson and Welty’s argument from intentionality to God. Ruloff expresses their argument as follows:
P1: The laws of logic are propositions.
P2: Propositions bear intrinsic intentionality.
P3: Therefore, the laws of logic are propositions that bear intrinsic intentionality. (From P1 and P2)
P4: x is intrinsically intentional only if x is mental (or mind-dependent).
P5: Therefore, the laws of logic are propositions that are mental (or mind-dependent). (From P3 and P4)
P6: The laws of logic exist necessarily.
P7: If the laws of logic exist necessarily and are mental, then the laws of logic are the contents of a necessarily existent mind.
P8: Therefore, the laws of logic are the contents of a necessarily existent mind. (From P5, P6, and P7)
P9: Therefore, a necessarily existent mind exists. (From P8)
Ruloff offers a defeater for P4, i.e., against the thesis that intentional entities must depend upon a mind. Toward that end, he sketches a standard account of propositions: Fregean Propositional Realism (FPR), according to which propositions are mind-independent abstract objects that are intrinsically and essentially intentional, and yet wholly independent of any and all minds. Officially:
Fregean propositional realism (FPR): Propositions are abstract, mind and language-independent, truth-bearing, representational entities, that function as the referents of propositional attitude reports and the meanings of declarative sentence-tokens.
Crucially, it is widely held that there is a straightforward argument for their intrinsic and essential intentionality, viz., propositions are the primary bearers of truth-values, and their truth-values are simply a function of their correspondence with the world (or lack thereof). Indeed, on FPR, the intentionality of thought is derivative of/dependent upon the intentionality of propositions, and not the other way around. 

Ruloff offers two main arguments for FPR that are commonly given and widely accepted. The first is the “singular term” argument (STA). According to STA, in sentences containing “that”-clauses e.g., “Joe believes that the ball is red.” – the “that”-clause is most naturally taken to be a singular term that is a referring expression. Prima facie, then, there is something to which “that”-clauses refer. But the most plausible candidates for such referents are mind-independent, abstract objects. 

The second argument is that the robust theoretical utility of FPR confers justification on the view. For example, it explains how (a) “the same semantic content can be expressed by different people uttering different sentence-tokens in different languages”; (b) “how the same semantic content can be believed by different people”; (c) “how mental states gain their representational content”; and (d) “makes intuitive sense of our ascriptions of truth and falsity”; etc.

Given that FPR is a well-motivated view and that it entails that propositions are essentially intentional entities and yet mind-independent, P4 is undercut.

“Against Mind-Dependence”, Philo 17:1 (2014):92-98.

In this paper, Ruloff evaluates Gould’s argument that propositions are caused by/grounded in a (divine) mind:
1. Propositions bear intrinsic intentionality.
2. X is intentional only if x is mental.
3. Therefore, propositions are mental (mental entities or mental states).
4. If propositions are mental, then they are thoughts.
5. Therefore, propositions are thoughts.
6. If propositions are thoughts, then they are effects of some mind.
7. Therefore, propositions are the effects of some mind.
Ruloff’s core claim is that (3) is subject to a reductio, entailing four assumptions that are widely rejected on grounds of implausibility: (i) had there never been any mental states, then there would be no true or false propositions; (ii) the total number of true and false propositions must equal the total number of mental states; (iii) it’s impossible for two people to believe the same proposition or share the same thought; and (iv) some propositions will fail to have contradictories. But if so, then there are grounds for rejecting (1) or (2) (or both).

(i) is implausible because it’s a prima facie false counterfactual or counterpossible: propositions would be true or false even if no one entertained them. (cf. McGrath (2012), Soames (1999), Jubien (1997), Swartz & Dowden (2004), etc.). The following counterfactual/counterpossible is even more salient: If there were no beings capable of mental states, “There are no beings capable of mental states” would’ve still been true ; (ii) is implausible because prima facie, there are many – infinitely many – more propositions than mental states; (iii) is implausible because propositions can be entertained by -- be “in” -- more than one mind at once, while mental states are concrete particulars, located in discrete regions of space and time, and no concrete particular can be in more than one region of space and time at once (cf. Frege); and (iv) is implausible because there seem to be propositions that at most one person has ever thought of. But if so, then if propositions are mental states, then no one will have thought of the contradictories of such propositions. But it’s absurd to think that some propositions don’t have contradictories. Therefore, propositions can’t be mental states. Until Gould addresses these implausibilities, his theistic conceptualism has undefeated defeaters.

“On Propositional Platonism, Representation, and Divine Conceptualism”, EJPR 8:4 (Winter 2016): 195-212.

In this paper, Ruloff critiques Gould & Davis’ critique of propositional platonism in favor of theistic conceptualism. In particular, Ruloff argues that their argument relies upon at least five implausible assumptions: (i) propositions must be representational in order to be the bearers of truth-values; (ii) propositions are abstract entities whose constituent components are properties, relations, and concrete individuals (i.e., that propositions are to be given a Russellian analysis); (iii) propositions are structured abstract entities; (iv) a proposition’s truth-conditions must be explained solely in terms of the representational properties of its constituent components; and (v) if the propositional platonist isn’t able to explain the representational properties of a proposition in terms of its constituents, a wholesale rejection of propositional platonism is justified. 

Against (i): Jeff Speaks’ account of propositions analyzes them in terms of properties. On Speaks’ account, “The ball is red” is true just in case the property being such that the ball is red is instantiated. But if so, then propositions can be bearers of truth-values without being inherently representational entities. Absent a successful critique of Speaks' account, (i) is undercut.

Against (ii): (a) Fregean accounts of propositions take the constituents to be structured senses, or modes of presentation, and not properties, relations, and individuals; and (b) Moorean accounts of propositions take them to be structured concepts/open sentences plus gap-filling expressions. Absent a successful critique of these accounts, (ii) is undercut.

Against (iii): (a) George Bealer has a well-developed and defended account of whole propositions as unstructured, metaphysically simple, ontologically primitive, sui generis abstracta. These simple entities are associated with a decomposition tree, and thus structure can be attributed to propositions in this derivative way; (b) Robert Stalnaker has a well-developed and defended account of propositions as sets of possible worlds, or functions from possible worlds to truth-values. Example: the proposition expressed by “Jen is a philosopher” is the set of worlds in which the referent of 'Jen'   is a member of the set of things that are philosophers. Equivalently, it’s the function f that maps a possible worlds w to the value True just in case Jen is a philosopher in w; (c) Keller & Keller have recently argued that the principle of compositionality is false, as it admits of counterexamples or rests on several very controversial assumptions. Absent a successful critique of these accounts and K & K's apparent counterexamples, (iii) is undercut.

Against (iv):  we've seen above that (a) Jeff Speaks has a well-developed and defended account of propositions as properties that entails that propositions are not representational at all, in which case they lack representational components; (b) Bealer’s and Stalnaker’s accounts of propositions entail that their truth-conditions don’t depend on simpler and structured parts; and (c) Keller & Keller’s arguments provide an undercutting defeater for the claim that propositions have internal components as constituents (cf. their arguments against the principle of compositionality). Absent a successful critique of these, (iv) is undercut.

Against (v): Even if the propositional platonist can’t explain how an abstract proposition can get its representational features from its constituents, propositional platonism would still be rationally justified. This is because of the widely endorsed theoretical utility argument for propositional platonism. According to the argument, because the view “elegantly and powerfully simplifies, unifies, and systematizes our thinking about language and communication, a commitment to propositional platonism is warranted.” (p. 209). For example, it explains (a) how the same semantic content can be expressed by different people uttering the different sentence tokens of different languages; (b) how the same semantic content can be believed by different people; (c) how mental states gain their representational content; (d) alethic modality (possibility, necessity, contingency, etc.); and (e) our ascriptions of truth and falsity. As Michael Jubien argues, given the impressively strong theoretical utility argument, we should “try to get used to the mystery” of how propositions can be intrinsically representational entities (Jubien 1997, p. 103). She is therefore warranted in taking the representational properties of propositions to be a theoretical primitive. Absent a successful critique of this argument, (v) is undercut.

Checking In

Hi Gang,
Just wanted to check in and say that I hope your summer is going well. 

Also, this. (H/T: K.) You're welcome.

A Weaker Version of the Principle of Material Causality Yields the Same Conclusion

Recent versions of the cosmological argument deploy weaker causal and explanatory principles to make them more plausible: Perhaps the evidence isn't strong enough to support the claim that, necessarily (or at least, actually), every object or state of affairs (or some proper subclass thereof) has a sufficient reason or efficient cause of their existence or obtaining. And perhaps such principles beg the question against the atheist by assuming the causal or explanatory structure of a theistic universe. But surely (so the thought goes) the atheist's intuitive evidence supports the weaker claim that everything can have an efficient cause or sufficient reason. Such arguments go on from there to argue that a theistic conclusion can be gotten from such weaker principles.

In the same spirit, I think the principle of material causality can be weakened so as to be adequately supported by even the theist's intuitive evidence:
Weak PMC: Possibly, every concrete object (and aggregate of such) that has an originating or sustaining efficient cause has an originating or sustaining material cause, respectively. 
In simple terms, Weak PMC says that it is possible that all made things are made from or out of other  things. A bit more carefully, it says that there is at least one possible world in which all concrete individuals and stuffs that are made are made from or out of other concrete individuals or stuffs.

Now my own view is that a much stronger version of PMC is true -- viz., that it holds of metaphysical necessity. However, I'd be willing to bet that most people believe that PMC is non-vacuously true in at least the actual world, and for good reason: it's intuitive, it has no uncontroversial exceptions, and it's encoded in the well-confirmed conservation laws of physics. A fortiori, then, I think that even the theist has enough intuitive evidence to warrant the claim that there is at least one possible world W in which such a principle is non-vacuously true. But if so, then in W, there are concrete objects that are made, and all concrete objects that are made are made out of other things or stuff. And if so, then no concrete objects in W that are made are made ex nihilo, in which case no god or gods made them ex nihilo in W. But on classical Anselmian theism, for any world that contains concrete objects or stuffs distinct from God, at least some of those objects or stuffs were made ex nihilo.  It follows that the god of classical Anselmian theism doesn't exist in W. But if so, then by (i) the fact that classical Anselmian theism entails that God is a metaphysically necessary being, and (ii) Axiom S5 of S5 modal logic, it follows that such a God doesn't exist in the actual world, either.

Therefore, one can generate a successful argument from material causality against theism with even  a very weak version of PMC. How powerful of an argument is it?

Very powerful, I'd say. To see this, consider the following line of reasoning. Leaving aside formal and final causes, there appear to be four possible scenarios for causal principles that govern a universe:

(i) Both an efficient cause principle and a material cause principle
(ii) An efficient cause principle without a material cause principle
(iii) A material cause principle without an efficient cause principle
(iv) Neither an efficient cause principle nor a material cause principle

Here's the rub: our grounds for a material cause principle are at least as strong as our grounds for an efficient cause principle (I would say they're stronger for a material cause, as there appear to be counterexamples to the efficient cause principle in cases of certain quantum phenomena). But if so, then starting from the neutral standpoint of agnosticism, there is a default presumption in favor of (i) as one's epistemic starting point. Rejecting it in favor of one of the other three options therefore requires adequate grounds for doing so. But it's unproblematic for the atheist to start at (i).  By contrast, the theist has their work cut out for them: They must find grounds to reject (i) in favor of (ii).  But prima facie, it looks like no such grounds can be forthcoming.  For prima facie, any argument for theism will run afoul of Weak PMC, as Weak PMC blocks cosmological, ontological, and design arguments, and arguments from substance dualism as arguments for theism (as opposed to arguments for, at best, pantheism, panentheism, and demiurgism). It therefore looks as though the argument from material causality holds out the promise (or peril) of constituting an intrinsic defeater-defeater against classical Anselmian theism.

By contrast, it's not obvious to me that the same can be said of the standard arguments for atheism. For such arguments seem to be resistible if the theist can provide other grounds for theism, such as those mentioned above. But the problem is that, unlike the argument from material causality, the arguments from evil and hiddenness can't hamstring those arguments. It therefore seems to me that the argument from material causality holds out the prospect of being the most powerful argument against theism.

The argument from material causality also has other epistemic functions that are slightly weaker, yet still important. First, it can show that the theist incurs a theoretical cost by rejecting Weak PMC, as it seems to be supported by just about anyone's intuitive evidence (at least prior to reflecting on its implications and revising one's web of beliefs). Second, it can function as an undercutting defeater for the newer versions of cosmological arguments mentioned at the beginning of our discussion. 

In at least these ways, then, it seems to me that the argument from material causality is very powerful indeed.

Notes on Morriston's "Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang"

Notes on Morriston’s “Creation Ex Nihilo and the Big Bang”, Philo 5:1 (2002), pp. 23-33.

0. Introduction (fill in later)

1. Craig’s First Argument: Infinite Density = Nothing
1.1 According to the Big Bang theory, the universe began with a great explosion from an infinitely dense point-particle.
1.2 There can be no object having infinite density.
1.3 So, “infinite density” is synonymous with “nothing”.
1.4 Therefore, the Big Bang theory requires that the universe had a beginning and was created out of nothing.

2. Criticisms of Craig’s First Argument
2.1 First, an infinitely dense point-universe is not nothing
2.1.1 the initial singularity is not nothing Nothingness can’t begin expanding, since there is nothing there to expand. By contrast, the “point-universe” began expanding. Even if the point-universe lacks spatial and temporal spread, it yet has other properties, e.g., being a point, being infinitely dense, being capable of expanding, etc.
2.2 Second, 'infinitely dense entity' is not synonymous with 'nothing'
2.2.1 Compare: (a) There can be no round squares; therefore, (b) 'round square'; is synonymous with 'nothing'. 
2.2.2 In general, from the fact that there can be no entity E, it doesn’t follow that ‘E’ is synonymous with ‘nothing’.
2.2.3 Therefore, even if there can be no infinitely dense point-universe, it doesn’t follow that ‘infinitely dense point-universe' is synonymous with ‘nothing’
2.3 Third, if nothing can be infinitely dense, then the universe was never infinitely dense
2.3.1 But if so, then premise 1 is false as stated
2.3.3 Craig’s argument is therefore subject to a dilemma: Either we change Craig’s description of what the Big Bang theory says, so that it doesn’t involve a state of infinite density, or we don’t if we do, then the argument loses its basis for inferring that the universe was created out of nothing If we don’t, then the criticism above (viz., that if (2) is true, then (1) is false) goes through either way, the argument is unsound
2.4 Fourth, few Big Bang cosmologists today think the universe was ever infinitely dense and point-sized
2.4.1 It’s true that, on the standard Big Bang model, the geometry of the universe’s expansion, when traced backward in time, continually decreases toward a limit of a diameter of zero
2.4.2 However, the limit diameter zero is thought of as an ideal, and not an actual, limit
2.4.3 Furthermore, we have no theory that allows us to infer the universe’s behavior  as we approach this limit Relativity theory breaks down prior to Planck time (i.e., 10-43seconds), and quantum effects become dominant prior to that point we need a quantum theory of gravity (which we don’t yet have) to accurately infer what happened prior to Planck time Until then, any claim about the earliest stage of our universe’s history is “sheer speculation”

3. Craig’s Second Argument: No Time Prior to the Singularity Entails Creation Ex Nihilo
3.1 The initial singularity exists at the earliest point of space-time.
3.2 There is no time prior to the earliest point of space-time.
3.3 Therefore, there was nothing temporally prior to the initial singularity.
3.4 So, the initial singularity must have come into existence out of nothing.
3.5 If, therefore, the initial singularity was created, it must have been created out of nothing

4. Criticisms of Craig’s Second Argument
4.1 First, the Big Bang theory doesn’t entail that there was no time “prior” the singularity
4.1.1 Craig himself has argued that it’s possible that there is a more fundamental “metaphysical time” that can exist independently of the physical time of our universe.
4.1.2 Craig’s thought experiment: Suppose God led up to creation by counting “1, 2, 3, … fiat lux!” 
4.1.3 In this scenario, time is elapsing, and yet no physical objects exist.  Its moments are individuated by the succession of contents in God’s mind.
4.1.4 Craig thinks this thought experiment shows that a time “prior” to physical time is metaphysically possible.
4.1.5 In fact, given Craig’s theism, he thinks this metaphysical time is actual
4.1.6 According to Craig, metaphysical time is absolute, tensed, and dynamic
4.1.7 But if so, then Craig’s view of metaphysical time entails the metaphysical possibility of time prior to the Big Bang singularity
4.1.8 The epistemic possibility of metaphysical time prior to the singularity is thus an undercutting defeater for premise 2
4.2 Second, there being nothing temporally prior to the singularity doesn’t entail there being nothing causally or ontologically prior to the singularity
4.2.1 What follows from (3) is not (4), but rather the weaker claim that the universe didn’t come from something that existed  at an earlier time.  It's therefore compatible with the possibility of the universe created from timeless stuff
4.2.2 To close the logical gap between (3) and (4), then, we need another premise, viz.,
(3 ½) If there was nothing temporally prior to the initial singularity, then it must have come into existence out of nothing.
4.2.2 But it’s not clear that (3 ½) is true Craig is already committed to saying that, ontologically prior to the singularity, God exists timelessly It’s therefore not clear what principled grounds he could have to rule out the epistemic possibility that, causally and/or ontologically prior to the singularity, other things besides God exist timelessly (e.g., a timeless stuff from which the universe was made) And if that’s right, it’s not clear how Craig can rule out the epistemic possibility that God created the universe out of a timeless stuff Therefore, even if there was no time prior to the singularity, it doesn’t follow that God created the universe out of nothing
4.2.3 Anticipated reply: Craig thinks he can rule out the epistemic possibility of timeless stuff because he thinks: (a) the only possible stuff from which God could make the universe is matter/energy; (b) timeless stuff is quiescent; and (c) matter/energy is never quiescent.
4.2.4 Rejoinder: it’s not clear that (a) is true: it’s epistemically possible that God created the universe out of some timeless stuff that’s distinct from matter/energy
4.2.5 Third, the grounds for a requirement of a timeless efficient cause of the universe is on an epistemic par with the grounds for a requirement of a timeless material cause The evidence for both causal principles is the same Both are intuitive Both enjoy strong empirical confirmation [N.B., actually, the case for material causes is stronger, given apparent counterexamples to the need for efficient causes in quantum mechanical phenomena. --EA] The theoretical costs of both is the same We’ve never observed timeless stuff, but we’ve never observed a timeless person, either. It’s odd to think that the material cause of the universe was timeless sans creation, and then entered time with its creation, but then Craig thinks the same is true of the efficient cause of the universe: God is timeless sans creation, but entered time at the moment of creation Given epistemic parity, we have a dilemma: Either our commonsense intuitions about ordinary cases of causation can reasonably applied to the beginning of the universe or they can’t. If they can, then creation of the universe out of timeless stuff is more plausible than creation ex nihilo. If they can’t, then we can’t draw any conclusion whatever about the existence and nature of the cause of the universe. Either way, Craig’s argument fails

Resto QuiƱones's New Argument Against Perfect Being Theism

Resto QuiƱones, Jashiel. " Incompatible And Incomparable Perfections: A New Argument Against Perfect Being Theism ", International...