I'm watching the YouTube videos of ReasonFest 2011, because some of the blogs I follow have been pimping ReasonFest 2012 and there aren't any videos up for that yet. The first thing I'm watching is a debate on the existence of god between Dan Barker (former Pentacostalist preacher, now atheist) and John-Mark Miravalle (Catholic apologist).
Miravalle opens with a sophisticated sounding argument based on "essential" vs. "non-essential" features of objects. I say it sounds sophisticated because it really boils down to an argument for infinite regression and the need to remove that infinity. It's the Kalam Cosmological argument that happens to rely upon the supposedly non-essential feature known as "existence".
Flaw the first: All the flaws of the Kalam Cosmological argument. It's an argument from first cause and I don't think a sophisticated thinker should rely on it. We know of acausal events, we know of self-causing events, we can and have developed models for the universe that have no need of a god. The KC argument is no longer a self-evidently true proposition. In fact, it never was; it merely held the field because there were no alternatives.
Flaw the sceond: The specific example he gives of an object with the non-essential quality of existence is a triangle he drew on a piece of paper. The essential quality: it has three sides, and asking why it has three sides brings you back to the definition of a triangle. The non-essential quality: it's blue, asking why it's blue brings you through regress to him and his blue marker. Then he takes us by analogy to the non-essential quality of existence. The triangle exists because he drew it, he exists because of his parents, and so on and so forth through a chain of causation terminated by the arbitrary assumption of the Christian god.
However, this is a problem of arguing from the specific to the general. That particular triangle exists because he drew it, but he would have us infer from there that all triangles exist only because they were created. Indeed, the concept of triangleness was created. Indeed, all things were created. He argues, without justification, that all of existence is a non-essential quality bestowed upon everything by a being/object that for which existence is an essential quality (analogy: a magnet that bestows magnetism down a chain of magnetically held objects).
In other words, he uses an object he created to argue that all objects are so created, and he does so without justification. "I drew a triangle, therefore someone created everything we see." He's attempting to argue that the fact of creation is proof of creation, but it's a smokescreen. What he's really saying is that the fact of existence is proof of creation and there's no connection between the two. He's trying to pull an infinitely long chain out of a hat and then say that it's not infinitely long because there's a god* at the other end.
Flaw the third: This is just another way of asking "Why is there something rather than nothing?" to which I believe the proper reply is "Why, in the face of all this something, do you persist in expecting nothing?" Our observation of the universe should lead us to expect that something does exist; the universe is manifestly self-organizing. From nothingness, somethingness continuously springs. The vacuum of emptiest space seethes with spontaneously manifesting particles. If a perfect nothing were ever to appear, we should expect a universe to happen, not for the nothingness to remain.
Next, on to the second part of the video.
* A lot of people have pointed out that none of these logical, metaphysical, etc arguments in fact argue for the Christian god, notwithstanding there many flaws, but just for some vague concept of godness that most people don't even attribute to or accept as the Christian god.