I was searching for material for my article on Scientism and I came across something from our old pal, WLC. On his website, Reasonable Faith, he has a number of podcasts including one titled “Proofs for God, Foreknowlege, and Scientism”. You can listen to it in entirety if you like, but I just want to point out his hilarious bunny argument.
It starts at about half-way through, with a question at 9:51.
Kev the Lackey:
‘K, let’s jump to the ontological argument. Buckle your seatbelt:
“Dr. Craig, listening to your Defenders’ class on the ontological argument, you responded to the following objection ‘Isn’t it intuitive that there’s a possible world in which a maximally great being wouldn’t exist? Say a world in which the only creatures that exist are tortured rabbits?’
“Your response seemed to parry this objecting by saying that, given that God exists, that his existence constrains the type of worlds that are possible and that it is intuitive that a maximally great being wouldn’t exist in such a world. This world turns out to be metaphysically impossible.
“While the objection holds a premise of the argument, and thus the argument’s success in question, doesn’t this response assume the argument’s conclusion, namely that God exists?”
No, not at all. It doesn’t assume that God exists. What it assumes is that God is possible.
The person who thinks that it’s possible that there is a world in which the highest life-form are rabbits that are unremittingly tortured and suffering with no redemption is assuming that it’s impossible that a maximally great being exists. So the assumption that that rabbit world is a possible world, I think, is parasitic upon the assumption that the first premise of the ontological argument is false, that it is possible that a maximally great being exists. So, it doesn’t assume that God exists, to say that that other world is not really metaphysically possible. Rather it is to say that if God’s existence is possible, as it seems to be, then that other world is not really a possible world. It’s just a product of human imagination. We can imagine things but that doesn’t mean that they're really possible.
I can imagine, for example, a world in which things pop into being without causes. I can picture in my mind a world in which horses, and eskimos, and rabbits are popping into being without any cause. I can have that mental picture in my mind but that doesn’t mean that’s really a metaphysically possible world. I would say that such a world is actually impossible so, while I can imagine such a world, that does not mean the world is truly conceivable and therefore logically, or metaphysically, possible.
Kev the Lackey:
Did someone in Defenders’ class ask you isn’t it intuitive that there is a possible world in which a maximally great being wouldn’t exist?
Yes, that was in the Defenders’ class, I think it was Bob, a class raised this issue. I think I may have used the example of the world of rabbits, which I got from Tom Morris in his book Anselmian Explorations, ah, that would be an example of, of a world that God would not, not create. I guess that’s what might be the, ah, assumption here, Kevin that I need to make explicit.
The, the assumption here is that a maximally great being wouldn’t actualize a world like that …
Kev the Lackey:
… and so, it’s really metaphysically impossible, given the existence of a maximally great being.
Kev the Lackey:
Well see, in, because the ontological argument would present that there is no possible world in which maximally great being would not exist …
Right. That’s why this world would, is not a real possible world …
Kev the Lackey:
Because of the rabbits or because of the being?
Because, a maximally great being would not create a world in which the highest life-form are rabbits that exist in unremitting (sic) suffering. That’s incompatible with his goodness.
Kev the Lackey:
Right. (sounding a little unconvinced)
So a maximally great being would not create such a world. So, if there is such a possible world, it follows that there is no maximally great being. And so, the objection is correct, I think, that we can imagine possible worlds in our minds, we can imagine this world of suffering rabbits, that are incompatible with the existence of a maximally great being.
But, are those really possible worlds, or are they just products of the imagination like worlds in which things pop into existence uncaused? And what I’m suggesting is, is that to think that that is a possible world is to assume that it is impossible for a maximally great being to exist. It is to assume that the first premise of the argument is false.
Kev the Lackey:
‘K (still sounding somewhat unconvinced)
So, after all of that fancy dancing, WLC is left saying something that the questioner said, the first premise is held to be in question. But although he never says it explicitly, WLC seems to be claiming that these two premises are not equal in validity:
It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
It is possible that there is a world in which rabbits are unremittingly tortured.
What he says far more explicitly is that they are mutually incompatible, ergo:
If it is possible that there is a world in which rabbits are unremittingly tortured, then it is not possible that a maximally great being exists
If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then it is not possible that there is a world in which rabbits are unremittingly tortured.
Ok, that is fair enough. However, you take this just one tiny step further and say that we won’t just consider rabbits. We could consider, for simplicity, four other species: cats, dogs, squirrels and ferrets.
The problem that WLC will face here is that is a mutual incompatibility between the possible existence of his god and the possible existence of a world in which any species of animal is unremittingly tortured. There is no mutual incompatibility between the possible existence of a world of unremittingly tortured rabbits and the possible existence of a world of unremittingly tortured ferrets.
Therefore, before you can even begin to consider the possibility of a maximally great being, you have to eliminate the possibility of any world in which any species of animal, or any combination of various species of animal, is unremittingly tortured, or tortured more than some acceptable proportion of the time, or prevented from breeding perhaps, or any one of a number of things that could be considered cruel or otherwise not in accordance with a maximally great being’s goodness.
The easiest way for WLC to get around this problem is to just assume God and apply the following logic:
If God, then God.
Of course WLC has, with his little rabbit-proof objection, managed to lie and dissemble.
It was a little way into the session that he admitted that it was he himself who raised the example of the world of bunnies. The fact that it was Craig who raised the objection explains why it’s so toothless. And it is indeed toothless in a very fundamental way, despite my protestations above.
Every single possible world in which there is some species or combination of species being unremittedly tortured has an implied immaterial, uncaused, personal great being. Look at the phrasing of the objection again, specifically Craig’s phrasing:
The person who thinks that it’s possible that there is a world in which the highest life-form are rabbits that are unremittingly tortured and suffering with no redemption is assuming that it’s impossible that a maximally great being exists.
If the unremittingly tortured rabbits are the highest life-forms – who is unremittingly torturing them?
The implied answer is of course that there is some sort of great being in charge of torture, because it must be in charge of the universe it created, because in the minds of people like Craig (in as much as they can be said to have minds) universes must have a creator.
Think about it for a moment – a world in which the highest life-form is a rabbit. Craig (or Tom Morris from whom Craig lifted the idea) has imagined a world like ours but without any higher life-form than a rabbit, without ever clarifying what is meant by a higher life-form. Perhaps he means a set of creatures including the human, which are “higher life-forms” on the grounds of a larger brain.
In any event, the rabbit evolved as part of a suite of creatures, including all the predators that provided the evolutionary pressure to develop their camouflaging coat, their underground lifestyle, their large ears, their ability to produce huge numbers of young and thus survive high levels of predation, and so on. Strip away some of the predation and you’ll no longer have the rabbit, you’ll have another sort of animal. Craig (via Morris) is assuming some form of directed evolution towards existent prototypes. This directed evolution implies a director, or a creator.
Craig’s little scheme seems to have been to build himself a straw man, an argument which he planned on attacking with his keen blade of Christian logic. This little scheme has gone awry since Craig has ended up being defeated by the straw man he created – not because the straw man is any good, but because – even in its laughable weakness – it is at least better than any of his standard arguments.