Friday, December 24, 2010

An Ad Hominem Argument for the PSR

Not every ad hominem is a logical fallacy, nor is it necessarily a personal attack. In this instance, what the defender of the PSR proposes is that the skeptic's own presuppositions entail adherence to the PSR. Have you ever been involved in a discussion like this?:

Proponent: God exists because X, Y, and Z.
Opponent: Why should I believe Z?
Proponent: Because Z is based on the PSR.
Opponent: Why should I believe in the PSR?

Notice how bizarre that last question sounds if you step back for a moment to think about it. If it's not the case that every existing thing has an explanation of its existence (PSR), then why should the proponent of the PSR be required to give a reason in defense of the PSR? If there are so many exceptions to the PSR, then it seems arbitrary for the opponent to demand an explanation in this case but not in others.

It seems to me that the PSR is a first principle of rational inquiry, much like the assumption that an external world exists. Without such principles, all rational inquiry ceases. Moreover, if we assume that the PSR is false, that gives rise to all kinds of paradoxes and absurdities. The proponent of the PSR should also not overlook the strength of arguing from intuition. How many of us, Richard Taylor points out, upon walking by a glowing translucent ball in the middle of the forest, would conclude that the ball had no explanation whatsoever? My guess is that even the diehard skeptic would not hesitate to conclude that it has an explanation, whatever that explanation might be.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Observational Unity and Diversity

As I was at the gym today, I was drying my hands and noticed several rusted dots on the hand dryer. Obviously this device had been installed some time ago, at least long enough for rust to develop. As I looked at them casually, it occurred to me that they were distinct yet, in some sense, the same. If one dot had been green, for example, I may have assumed that some paint had somehow made it on the hand dryer. The fact that each dot, while distinct, was of the same rusted color, caused me conclude that each of these dots had arisen from a common source.

As we gaze in awe upon the universe's constants and order, we find a much more overwhelming sense of unity among diverse objects. Why is it that in one part of the universe gravity is present in much the same way as in another part? How about any of the laws of nature, or any existing thing for that matter? There is something so unbelievable about nature being uniform across the vastness of space, and yet it's this unbelievable conclusion that makes the most sense by a long shot.

God, our source of life, our hope, and our being, is at the beginning of it all, having created and now sustaining all that we see and all that is beyond our vision. If I, a lowly sinner, can see this on a men's locker room hand dryer, how much more ought we be able to see it in all of God's majestic creation?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Circumstantial Evidence and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

In Luke 1:26-33, the angel Gabriel informs Mary that she will give birth to a child. Her response in verse 34 is quite interesting:

"'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'"

Notice that Mary's self-description of her virginity is in the present tense. She doesn't state that she will forever remain a virgin. On the other hand, Gabriel's declaration is in the future tense. Why, then, does Mary not just assume that in the future she will conceive in the natural way? Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants (but most Protestants today do not hold to this) believe that Luke 1:34 is indicative not only of Mary's present state, but also of her vocation.

The awkwardness of Luke 1:34 for the contradictory view is manifest in the gratuitousness of Mary's question. Where e = evidence (in particular, the passage we are discussing), h = the hypothesis that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life, and k = any background knowledge, P(h/e&k) > P(h/k). In other words, Luke 1:34, while not necessarily demonstrative evidence of Mary's perpetual virginity, does make this hypothesis more likely true than it would be without Luke 1:34.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some-All Analogies and the Ontological Argument

The easiest way to express the ontological argument is like this (where "God" = a maximally great being, or a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect in every possible world):

1. God is either necessary or impossible. (Definition)

2. God is not impossible. (Premise)

3. Therefore, God is necessary. (From 1 and 2)

Transpositionally, (2) implies that God is possible. Given God's possible existence and S5, it follows that God exists. I argued earlier that one may demonstrate (2) by way of reductio ad absurdum. However, after giving it some further thought, I also think there is promise in arguing by way of analogy.

Take the proposition p1, "some of the existing apples are on earth." Now, according to Boolean logic, the quantifier, "some," does not necessarily imply that there are some existing apples that are not on earth. Nevertheless, given the possibility that p1, it is also reasonable to infer the possibility of p2, "all of the existing apples are X." In other words, the possibility of some implies the possibility, even if not the actuality, of all.

Applied to the ontological argument, we know that there are agents (such as ourselves) who possess some power, some knowledge, and some moral goodness in some possible worlds. If the some-all analogy is correct and taken to its logical conclusion, it follows that God possibly exists. This is all that is needed to show that (2) is true. Of course, (2) in conjunction with (1) implies that God is necessary, or has existence in all possible worlds.

Given that God exists in all possible worlds, and given that the actual world is a member of the set of possible worlds, it follows that God exists in the actual world. Therefore, God exists.

Of course, if one is not persuaded by the some-all analogy, then he/she will not necessarily accept the conclusion that God exists. For the rest of us, though, the knowledge of our limited perfections only confirm our conviction that God exists. As C.S. Lewis quips (and I paraphrase), we only know that a line is crooked if we have some idea of what a straight line looks like.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The TCA and Omnipotence

1. Every temporally contingent thing has a sustaining cause. (Premise)

2. If there is no First Cause, then there is an infinite regress of temporally contingent sustaining causes. (Premise)

3. There cannot be an infinite regress of sustaining causes. (Premise)

4. Therefore, a First Cause exists. (From 1 - 4)

5. Every existing thing is either omnipotent or non-omnipotent. (Definition)

6. Whatever is non-omnipotent can be generated. (Premise)

7. A First Cause cannot be generated. (Premise)

8. Therefore, the First Cause is omnipotent.

An omnipotent First Cause, as the Angelic Doctor muses, "everyone understands to be God."

Notice that the second half of the argument is almost identical to the Modal Third Way (MTW) that I defend on this blog. The first half of this version of the TCA, on the other hand, is more traditional.

As believers we often get the question: why does the First Cause have to be God?

This is a good and fair question, but it is also one that can be answered quickly with success. (5) - (8) show that the First Cause must have omnipotence, an exclusively God-like characteristic.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Philosophy - Academic or Practical?

I've always thought of philosophy - good philosophy, at least - as being both academic and practical. I have to wonder about some of the great minds who have undertaken various philosophical exercises. When Kant was "scandalized" by Hume's writings, were his (Kant's) reactions based upon something he really believed?

I don't mean to call into question Kant's sincerity, and hopefully my intentions will become clear by the end of this post. Take, for example, Kant's insistence that causation is a mental construct, which is part of the phenomenal realm. Would Kant have really thought that causation has nothing whatsoever to do with the realm of the noumena? Or, as I suspect, did he set out to demonstrate as much as he thought possible and simply leave his belief in causation-qua-noumena as a rationally-held belief that couldn't have absolute metaphysical certitude?

We find traces of a less-than-skeptical Hume, as well. Not even he questioned the truth of ex nihilo nihil fit. He only questioned our ability to prove it with Cartesian certitude.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Zeus Fallacy

Some of the new atheists have likened belief in God (I'm thinking especially of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic conception of God) to belief in Zeus, Santa Claus, and other beings that are known, to a fairly high degree, to not exist. There is, however, a major disparity involved in their comparisons. Let's start with the fact that God is supposed to be a transcendent personal creator of the universe. Zeus may be personal, but he's certainly not transcendent. Take the statement:

1. The universe has a transcendent cause.

Is (1) obviously false? Can it even be said with a high degree of certainly that (1) is false? Not at all. Even without the use of argumentation, we can see that (1) provides evidence for the rational acceptability of theism. Contrast (1) with:

1*. There is an embodied god living on the top of Mount Olypmus.

Certainly, there is no explicit contradiction in (1*), but we also have many good reasons to think (*1) is false. For one thing, we have travelled to the top of Mount Olympus and no gods have been discovered. This appears suspect (to say the least) given especially that Zeus is an embodied god. It's not like he is omnipotent or immaterial, the latter two of which would explain why something has not yet been discovered empirically.

Now take the next step:

2. The universe's transcendent cause is a personal agent.

Once again, (2) is not obviously wrong. In fact, there are good reasons to think (2) is true. Just think of the incredible fine-tuning of the universe, the possibility (and later actualization) of entities evolving who possess rational cognitive faculties and knowledge of an objective moral law. These are all data we would expect to find if God exists. If God does not exist, however, the probability of discovering these things, on the hypothesis that God does not exist, is either low or inscrutable.

I conclude that one should abandon atheism/naturalism in favor of some form of theism.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Change and Permanence

As human beings, we have a need for security. Time is fleeting and despite our best efforts, those moments we recognize ourselves as truly happy in our earthly lives only last for a brief glimmer. We desire permanence, but we also desire spontaneity. Think, for example, of a hypothetical situation in which you could "freeze" time so that a state of happiness could last forever. Should this happiness outweigh the happiness of others in the future? It seems not, and moreover, the actions we perform in the future will potentially contribute to the happiness of others in such a manner that we are needed to continue through time.

There is, then, a desire for spontaneity along with a desire for permanence. It is in the permanence of God's love that we find satisfaction for both desires. We endure through time, God's creation, all the while knowing that we rest in God's love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

God and the Necessity of Logic

Is logic dependent on God? Some have gone so far as to say that God is logic, simply as a matter of identity. Others, such as Plantinga, hold that logic, insofar as it can be expressed propositionally, constitute one of the "divine ideas," or thoughts of God. One argument against this goes something like this:

1. Logic is necessary. (Premise)

2. Whatever is necessary cannot be contingent. (Definition)

3. If logic is dependent on God, then logic is contingent. (Definition).

4. Therefore, logic is not dependent on God. (From 1 - 3)

The problem with this argument, and we find a similar problem with the Euthyphro Dilemma, is that it unambiguously equivocates the term, "contingent." In (2), "contingent" refers to contingency-as-possible-non-instantiation, whereas in (3), "contingency" refers to contingency-as-dependency. Only the former of the two definitions necessarily entails the non-necessity of logic.

To show that this is the case, suppose that A exists necessarily. Now imagine that A necessarily entails B. B is therefore necessary as well, but it is also dependent on A. Therefore, B is both necessary and dependent.

For this reason, it is probably best to use the term, "dependent," when referring to contingency-as-dependency. "Contingency" may then be reserved only for possible non-instantations. This may help alleviate the common confusion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Ontological Argument Based on Providence

Providence, roughly stated, is power over all things. It is slightly different than omnipotence in that providence specifies an actual causal relationship between the agent with providence and all existing, and all possibly existing, things.

Take the following axioms:

1. If X is a great-making property, then ~X is not a great-making property.

2. Being a necessary condition is a great-making property.

3. Having providence is a great-making property.

Now, the argument:

4. A provident agent is not possible. (Premise)

5. If a provident agent is not possible, then every existing thing has the property of not being provident. (Premise)

6. If every existing thing has the property of not being provident, then not being provident is a necessary condition. (Premise)

7. If not being provident is a necessary condition, then not being provident is a great-making property. (From 1 and 2)

8. Not being provident is not a great-making property. (From 1 and 3)

9. Hence, a provident agent is possible. (From 5 - 8)

10. Therefore, a provident agent exists. (From 9 and S5)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Bible and Cogent Induction

An inductive inference to X is said to be cogent so long as the data are best explained by positing X. We do this all time. For example, given our experience of human beings, we conclude that if Socrates is a human being, then Socrates is mortal. After all, every other human we observe is mortal, and there doesn't appear to be anything about Socrates that would make him an exception.

The Bible exposes a number of false inductive inferences. For example, in 2 Chronicles 32:13-14, King Sennacherib of Assyria has this to say to Judah: "Do you not know what my fathers and I have done to all the peoples of other lands? Were the gods of the nations in those lands able to save their land from my hand? Who among all the gods of those nations which my fathers put under the ban was able to save his people from my hand? Will your god, then, be able to save you from my hand?"

Sennacherib's point is simple enough: the god of every other nation X was unable to save X. Yahweh is the god of Israel. Therefore, Yahweh will most likely fail to save Israel.

Of course, we later read that Sennacherib's invasion fails (2 Chronicles 32:21-23). Why is this?

Inductive inferences are only cogent insofar as there is uniformity in certain key analogies. However, there is a disparity between the gods of the nations that Sennacherib conquered and the God of Israel, Yahweh - namely, Yahweh is maximally great. A cogent inductive argument would have taken the finitude of these other gods into account.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Axiological-Ontological Argument

According to Leibniz, we live in the best possible world. Imagine some possible world w1 in which the cumulative best state of affairs is instantiated. This means that w1 is the best possible world, regardless of whether w1 is the actual world or not. Now consider the following argument:

1. The best possible world w1 is actually a possible world. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, w1 is possible if and only if a maximally great being exists in w1. (Premise)

3. Hence, a maximally great being possibly exists. (From 1 and 2)

4. Therefore, a maximally great being exists. (From 3 and S5)

(2) seems obviously and intuitively true to me, but I'm interested in how a proponent of the argument might argue for its veridicality. If the world would be a better place to live in if there were a God (a maximally great being), then the best possible world would have to have a God, would it not?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Oddity of Jesus Mythicism

A common trend in the arguments of Jesus Mythicists is to point to any similarity between Jesus and a myth that preceded the first century A.D. and conclude that Christians borrowed from the myth. The line of reasoning goes something like this:

1. The narratives of Jesus have similarities to the myth of Osiris. (Premise)

2. Osiris preceded Jesus. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the narratives of Jesus were borrowed from the myth of Osiris. (From 1 and 2)

4. If the content of a narrative is borrowed from a myth, the narrative is also a myth and hence false. (Premise)

5. Therefore, the narratives of Jesus are mythical and false. (From 3 and 4)

Of course, no actual proponent of Jesus Mythicism would put the argument that way, and for good reason. For one, the argument is obviously invalid. (3) does not follow from (1) and (2). Moreover, (4) is demonstrably false. How many sober historians would conclude that Edward I of England is mythical simply because there are aspects of his life similar to that of the mythical King Arthur?

What the Jesus Mythicist position does, in effect, is prevent debate about the historicity of the life of Jesus from even getting off the ground. After all, why bother discussing the merits of the Gospels' empty tomb accounts when the very resurrection of Jesus itself can be dismissed as mythical from the start?

Monday, October 25, 2010

End-of-Regular-Season Predictions for the NBA 2010-11

1. Miami
2. Orlando
3. Boston
4. Chicago
5. Atlanta
6. Milwaukee
7. Philadelphia*
8. Cleveland**

1. LA Lakers
2. Dallas
3. Oklahoma City
4. San Antonio
5. Portland
6. Denver***
7. LA Clippers****
8. Phoenix

*I expect the Sixers to do much better this year with the addition of defensive-minded coach, Doug Collins. With a young core of Holiday, Turner, Iguodala, Young, Williams, and Speights, this team will run a lot.

**Cleveland is a bit of a wildcard. I have no idea if they will survive the loss of LeBron James, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt with the eighth seed in the East.

***Denver is another wildcard. I expect Carmelo Anthony to be traded by the deadline, which could potentially mean that the Nuggets will be missing the postseason entirely. However, they have a lot of talent left even without Melo, and a sixth seed is conceivable.

****With Blake Griffin healthy, I think the Clippers will have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs. With that said, the seventh seed is generous.

I predict that Charlotte will drop out of favor in the East, and that Utah (heavily affected by free agent losses during the offseason) will fail to make the playoffs in the West.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

God's Immutability versus Omniscience?

Craig and Moreland both argue against a strong doctrine of divine immutability. They use the following example:

1. God is timeless only if He is immutable. (Definition)

2. God is immutable only if He does not know what time it is now. (Premise)

3. If God is omniscient, then He knows what time it is now. (Premise)

4. God is omniscient. (Premise)

5. Therefore, God is not timeless. (From 1 - 4)

(5) entails (6): God is not immutable.

I list (2) and (3) as premises, as opposed to definitions, because what they are assuming (and they are quite upfront about this) is an A-theory of time. If time is dynamic and the present is constantly changing, then in order for God to be omniscient, He must know what the present is. Given that the present changes, there is a change in God's knowledge, implying that God is not immutable.

I have to wonder whether this turns out to be an argument not against immutability, but rather against an A-theory of time. Consider this:

1*. God is immutable and omniscient. (Premise)

2*. God is only immutable and omniscient if He knows all times simultaneously. (Definition)

3*. If all times are simultaneous to God, then time is static. (Definition)

4*. Therefore, time is static. (From 1 - 3)

(4*), of course, is a description of a B-theory of time.

It's not that I'm trying to take a position on whether I prefer an A-theory or a B-theory. Rather, I point out that one's presuppositions with respect to the nature of God will ultimately prove determinative for one's view of the relationship between God and time. If an A-theory is incompatible with divine immutability (and it's arguably not), then a good argument for divine immutability will simply lead one to accept a B-theory.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yet Another Modal Third Way

I like to update these arguments, especially when I think the phrasing can be improved so as to avoid confusion or disagreement. Here is what I currently have:

1. Every existing being is either temporally contingent or temporally necessary. (Definition)

2. Something exists right now. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, if something exists right now, then something has always existed. (Premise)

4. Possibly, there was a time in the past at which nothing temporally contingent existed. (Premise)

5. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. (Conclusion)

6. Every existing being is either omnipotent or non-omnipotent. (Definition)

7. Possibly, whatever is non-omnipotent can be generated. (Premise)

8. Necessarily, whatever is temporally necessary cannot be generated. (Premise)

9. Therefore, a temporally necessary and omnipotent being exists. (Conclusion)

Validity of the Argument

Assume (10): A temporally necessary being does not exist. (10) and (3) imply together with (1) and (2) that (11): Necessarily, a temporally contingent being has always existed. This contradicts (4), so (10) is false. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. Let us call this being "N."

Assume (12): N is non-omnipotent. (12) and (7) imply (13): Possibly, N can be generated. However, (13) contradicts (8). Therefore, N is omnipotent. Q.E.D.

Soundness of the Argument

(1) is true by definition. (2) is true upon observation. (3) is based on ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing comes nothing). If there were ever a time in the past at which nothing existed, then nothing would exist now, which is plainly false.

(4) seems reasonable enough. If one part of a house can fail to exist at some time, then the house as a whole can also fail to exist at some time. Given the possibility of the non-existence of some temporally contingent being at some time in the past, it seems equally possible for nothing temporally contingent to exist at some time in the past. Mind you, this does not assume there actually was such a time, but only that it is possible.

(5) logically follows from (1) - (4), so we need only close the gap between N and God in order for the modal third way to be a sound argument of natural theology.

Once again, (6) is true by definition. (7) might be the most controversial premise of the argument, but it too seems highly plausible. Assume that X is non-omnipotent, but is also the most powerful being in w1. In w2, X is less powerful than Y. If there is even a single possible world in which Y generates X, it follows that X is possibly generated. The same process can be used to show that any non-omnipotent being is possibly generated.

(8) seems indubitably true, at least on this particular use of "generated." If there is no time at which N can possibly not-exist, then N is just not the type of being that can be generated.

If each of these premises is correct, then (9) follows necessarily: a temporally necessary and omnipotent being exists.

It may be asked whether the argument requires that the past be infinite, but I don't think that's the case. Far from assuming the infinity of the past, (3) only requires that there be no time at which the statement, "something exists," is false. (3) is correct whether the past is finite or infinite. I take it that the temporally necessary being, granting that the past is finite, existed in an undifferentiated time at the beginning.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Third Way Again...

1. Something has always existed. (Premise)

The MTW and the traditional Third Way both use (1) as a starting point.

2. Temporally contingent beings exist. (Premise)

3. If there is no temporally necessary being, then only temporally contingent beings exist. (Premise)

4. If only temporally contingent beings exist, it is necessarily the case at all past times that at least one temporally contingent being existed. (From 1 and 3)

5. It is not necessary for there to be any temporally contingent beings. (Premise)

6. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. (From 3 - 5)

To repeat, premise (1) is supported by the fact that out of nothing comes nothing. (2) and (3) are uncontroversial, and (4) is logically deducted, so that leave us with (5).

To put it bluntly, a denial of (5) results in plainly weird consequences. How would the non-existence of temporally contingent beings explain the existence of some other temporally contingent being? Does the non-existence of every non-unicorn imply that a unicorn exists? [1] Clearly not. Yet, if it's necessary that something has always existed, but it's not necessary that there always existed some temporally contingent being, it follows that a temporally necessary being exists.

[1] Alexander Pruss, "Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing," Philosophia Christi 7 (2005), p. 210.

The Modal Third Way - Expressed a Bit Differently

The Third Way starts by defining two types of possible entities: contingent and necessary.

X is temporally contingent in W if and only if X can possibly not-exist in W.
Y is temporally necessary in W if and only if Y cannot possibly not-exist in W.

The argument begins like this:

1. Something has always existed. (Premise)

If there were ever a time in the past in which nothing at all existed, then nothing would exist even now, for out of nothing comes nothing. Therefore, something has always existed.

2. There is a possible state of affairs S in the past in which nothing temporally contingent exists. (Premise)

3. It is necessarily the case that S is explicable. (Premise)

Where "explicable" means possibly caused. Assuming a brick could just pop into existence uncaused out of nothing doesn't undermine premise (3). For, it is still possible for the brick to be caused into existence.

4. Either there is a temporally necessary being, or else there is no temporally necessary being. (Law of excluded middle)

5. S is explained either by nothing or by a temporally necessary being. (From 3 and 4)

6. Nothing can explain nothing. (Premise)

7. Hence, S is explained by a temporally necessary being. (From 5 and 6)

8. Therefore, a temporally necessary being exists. (From 7)

Notice how the Modal Third Way doesn't rely upon the S5 axiom of modal logic. The logical axioms used throughout the MTW are fairly benign, e.g. the K system of modal logic.

We could then add the omnipotence argument to close the gap between temporally necessary being and God.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Immutable Truths, Theism and Naturalism

It seems like such a simple argument, and some may allege that it's simplistic, but here goes nothing:

1. There are immutable truths of logic, mathematics, and ethics. (Premise)

2. If Naturalism is true, everything is mutable. (Definition)

3. Therefore, Naturalism is false. (From 1 and 2)

Given that Naturalism is false, theism becomes a much more viable option. (1) may be demonstrated transcendentally, e.g. the rejection of the laws of logic is self-defeating. The reason (2) is correct is because Naturalism, at least on most accounts I'm familiar with, states that every existing thing is physical. Since all physical things are capable of change, it follows that every existing thing is capable of change (mutability).

Of course, the philosophically sophisticated Naturalist might amend such a view. Let's call the former Naturalism-A and the latter Naturalism-B. She might hold, like Bertrand Russell (incidentally, should Russell be considered a Naturalist?), that there are objective, immutable truths of logic, and so forth. The central thesis of Naturalism-B, then, would be this: there are immutable truths, but all concrete particulars are mutable. Immutable truths exist in a kind of Platonic realm.

Naturalism-B is probably more tenable than Naturalism-A, but does Naturalism-B survive philosophical muster? The problem that Russell, Quine, and other Platonists faced in the past, and what remains a major difficulty today, is Plato's "third man" argument. If there are immutable truths, why do we, mutable minds, have knowledge of them? I've defended the causal objection to Platonism in the past, and it seems equally relevant to Naturalism-B for as long as Naturalism-B is dependent on Platonism or something close to it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Omnipotence Argument and the Contingency of the Universe

Although few atheistic philosophers take such a view, I do occasionally hear opponents of the Leibnizian cosmological argument (LCA) suggest that the universe may exist necessarily. I want to argue against this in a somewhat unconventional way. First of all, to repeat the standard version of the LCA:

1. Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, PSR)

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. (Premise)

3. The universe exists. (Premise)

4. Hence, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (From 1 and 3)

5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God. (From 2 and 4)

Since the atheist in this instance rejects (2) by opting to conclude that the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature, we may argue the following:

6. Whatever exists by a necessity of its own nature is either omnipotent or not-omnipotent. (Premise, law of excluded middle)

7. Every not-omnipotent thing possibly has an external cause. (Premise)

8. Whatever is necessary cannot have an external cause. (Premise)

9. Therefore, whatever exists by a necessity of its own nature is omnipotent. (From 6 - 9)

10. The universe is not-omnipotent. (Premise)

11. Therefore, the universe does not exist by a necessity of its own nature. (From 9 and 10)

(6) is obviously true, so in confirmation of (9) we are left with (7) and (8). (7) is fairly benign, since even supposing that something not-omnipotent is uncaused, there is still a possible world in which it does have an external cause. (8), I think, is also indubitably true. If a necessary entity n1 were caused by another necessary entity n2, then n1 and n2 would have to be distinct entities. Yet, whatever is necessary must have an essence identical to its existence, for to exist non-essentially is to exist contingently. Since nothing can cause itself to exist, it follows that whatever is necessary is also self-existent and therefore cannot have an external cause.

(10) is true upon observation. There are many limitations inherent throughout the universe, so the universe cannot be omnipotent. Even if it were omnipotent, that wouldn't bode well for the atheist, since she presumably wants to deny that any existing thing is omnipotent. Of course, (11) follows logically from (9) and (10).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Knowledge and Morality

Today I was thinking back to when I was in elementary school and we had our seasonal "Sock Hops." They were always a lot of fun, and music was played from all decades that we enjoyed making fools of ourselves dancing to. One of the songs that stands out the most to me is The Four Seasons hit, "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." It never dawned on me as a child, but now that I'm a grown adult, I have to chuckle a bit and shake my head about the fact that this particular song was being played in front of a bunch of eight to eleven year-olds.

The song isn't explicit, but who in their right mind would knowingly play a song that is about a young man who loses his virginity to a prostitute to a group of grade school children? Now, I should say right off the bat that we should give our DJ the benefit of the doubt in this case. He probably had no idea what the song was really about (we certainly didn't), and it's my impression that the vast majority of adult listeners don't even know. The song was most likely played because it is upbeat and easy to dance to.

Imagine now a hypothetical situation in which the DJ knows exactly what the song is about, but chooses to play it anyway. His motives aren't necessarily sinister, but he decides to play it because he happens to like the tune and thinks everyone else will, too. This may not be the most grave moral situation ever, but is it appropriate for him to play it? He knows what the song is about, but he also knows that none of the children know. To make matters more complicated, suppose he would not be willing to play it if he thought it likely that even one of the children knew the meaning.

It is obvious (to me, at any rate), that the DJ is taking an unwarranted risk. "When in doubt, throw it out," seems especially appropriate in this context. Elementary school children know a lot about adult content, no matter how much parents would like to pretend otherwise. If there is even a significant chance that just one of the children knows the meaning of the song, then he or she is likely to tell his/her friends as the song is playing. It seems to me, then, that knowledge of something increases the force of a moral imperative, motives notwithstanding. Therefore, the DJ should not play a song that may have a negative influence on his young audience.

Of course, as I mentioned before, I seriously doubt anyone knew the meaning of this song at the time.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Meaningfulness of Abstract Objects as Existents

It is alleged by the noncognitivist that talk of abstract objects as existing things is literally meaningless. What does it mean to say, for example, that the law of non-contradiction exists, or that the number 7 exists? Can such statements be defended from the noncogntivist's attack?

Notice that one needn't hold the belief that abstract objects actually exist in order to consistently maintain that it's meaningful to talk as if they exist. The nominalist might say that the number 7 does not exist, but that "the number 7 exists" is a meaningful, coherent proposition.

One may advance an argument based on the indispensability of abstract object-talk:

1. If a proposition is meaningful, each of its referents must possibly exist. (Premise)

For example, if I were to say, "unicorns are magical horses with a horn," I am expressing a proposition in which each of the words in the sentence at least possibly exists, even though this particular entity does not, in fact, exist.

2. Some propositions include abstract objects as referents. (Premise)

"The Prime Minister is not a prime number," includes an abstract object - prime number (e.g. 7).

3. Some of the propositions in (2) are meaningful. (Premise)

"The Prime Minister is not a prime number" expresses not only a truth, but a necessary truth. Prime Ministers just aren't the type of entities that can be prime numbers. Yet, a proposition can only be true if it is meaningful. From this it follows that:

4. Therefore, abstract objects are meaningful referents. (From 1 - 3)

As stated before, the meaningfulness of abstract objects does not necessarily entail that abstract objects exist. However, one may very well advance an additional argument that states that indispensable truths must exist. It is self-refuting to reject the laws of logic, for example, which entails their indispensability, and it's their indispensability that entails their existence as abstract objects. (I'm thinking of logic as abstract for fairly obvious reasons. The law of non-contradiction doesn't do anything; it doesn't stand in any causal relations, so it cannot be concrete.)

Logic, then, is necessary at all times and all places. This is a viable starting point for an argument of natural theology. Logic is either the concept of a mind, or else it is mind-independent. If it is conceptual, then it cannot be the concept of just any mind (you and I possibly fail to exist at various times), but must be the concept of a necessary mind, God.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More on the Impossibility of an Infinite Regress

I typically defend two arguments against an infinite regress of sustaining causes. The first is deductive. The regress of sustaining causes at any finite period of time is either itself finite or infinite. However, it would take infinite time for an infinite regress of sustaining causes to cause anything at all. Therefore, at any finite period of time, the regress of sustaining causes is finite.

The second argument is inductive, or probabilistic. If all of the known attributes of X are finite, and Y is an attribute of X, it stands to reason that Y is most likely finite. Since the regress of sustaining causes for any finite object is an attribute of that finite object, it follows that the regress of sustaining causes for any finite object is itself most likely finite.

Perhaps the objection to these arguments I hear most often is that between 0 and 1, there are infinitely-many points. Therefore, concludes the objector, an infinite regress can and does obtain within a finite object and/or finite period of time. The immediate response to this objection is that once all of the points between 0 and 1 are added up, the sum is a finite number, which is disanalogous to what the objector is purporting to demonstrate. Moreover, the points between 0 and 1 are arguably abstract, and not concrete, so one is not permitted to beg the question is favor of their concrete reality without additional argumentation.

Today, as I was listening to a 70's mix I had made a couple weeks ago, it occurred to me as I would turning up the volume that I could also turn the volume down to the point where the music would eventually be muted entirely (0 dB). Let's say, then, that at a relatively loud rock concert - roughly, 100 decibels - the volume is turned down progressively. Between 0 dB and 100 dB, there are infinitely-many points that correspond to a certain decibel level. Yet from this, it simply doesn't follow that there is an infinite regress. After all, the decibel level is bounded at 0 dB, which is a decibel level that is possibly obtained. In order for there to be an infinite regress, at least in any relevant sense, there should be no smallest decibel level; but since this is manifestly false, it follows that the regress is finite.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Random Thought on the Theist/Deist Distinction

Roughly, theists and deists agree that there exists a God (a being that is a necessary First Cause, Creator and Designer of the universe). At the core, the difference lies in the acceptance of miracles. A miracle is generally agreed to be a highly unusual event with salvific implications. The theist believes in miracles, whereas the deist rejects them.

Consider now the hypothesis that God exists, and it is within God's power to bring about a miracle, but God chooses not to do so. Would this fall under the realm of theism or deism?

Monday, September 20, 2010

God and the Environment

The Judeo-Christian view of environmentalism is typically one of stewardship. We ought to care for the environment because it is a gift that God has bestowed on us (Gen. 1:28-31 - the term, "subdue" should not be interpreted as "exploit").

I also came across this passage in the Koran that we can likely agree with insofar as it accords with Biblical teaching: "So remember (all) the bounties of Allah and do not evil, making mischief in the earth" (Surah 7:74).

Under a divinely-instituted caretaker understanding of environmental ethics, we can make sense out of our obligation to care for the earth, and for the environment, generally-speaking. The environment has an intrinsic value to it because a personal agent (God) has created and designed it, and only persons have value or can give value to something.

For the naturalist, though, environmentalism seems out of place. I suppose the naturalist could argue that our care for the environment is pragmatic, e.g. we need to care for the environment in order for human beings to flourish. But of course, why should human beings be so highly valued? Are we not deceiving ourselves, under naturalism, by acting as if we are worth more than the impersonal environmental forces we are so oddly concerned about?

Of course, I am convinced that rationality, intelligence, intentionality, and value are all attributes of human beings best explained by an ultimate cause that possesses those same attributes, albeit in an analogical way.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Aesthetic Argument

The aesthetic argument for God's existence is an intriguing subset of the teleological (design) argument. Think of the following:

1. Music displays simplicity in diversity. (Premise)

2. Simplicity in diversity is beautiful. (Premise)

3. Therefore, music is beautiful. (From 1 and 2)

What makes a song so aesthetically pleasing? If it were all the same (simplicity), it would be boring. If it were all different (diversity), it would be chaotic. It is the combination of these two elements that makes music beautiful to the listener.

Consider now the laws of nature. They are simple (e.g. Newton's law of universal gravitation) throughout a great diversity of objects. This makes the laws of nature beautiful.

4. The laws of nature display simplicity in diversity. (Premise)

6. Therefore, the laws of nature are beautiful. (From 2 and 4)

7. Beauty is the product of design. (Premise)

8. Therefore, the laws of nature are the product of design. (From 6 and 7)

Music isn't beautiful by chance alone, much less by some physical necessity (law). Rather, music is the expression of a personal agent, such as Mozart or Bach. What this suggests is a parallel of design between music and the laws of nature. Given that both exemplify beauty, we may infer that the laws of nature are the way they are because of the design of a personal* agent.

*Or in the view of Christians, tri-personal.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just one reason I love reading the early Church Fathers...

"We must begin by purifying ourselves before purifying others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct, become light to illuminate, draw close to God to bring him close to others, be sanctified to sanctify, lead by the hand and counsel prudently. I know whose ministers we are, where we find ourselves and to where we strive. I know God's greatness and man's weakness, but also his potential." -St. Gregory of Nazianzus

I would only add, and I'm sure Gregory would agree, that our potential can only be actualized by the grace of God, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Phil. 2:13).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A C-Inductive Argument for the Assumption of Mary

Richard Swinburne has defined a correct C-inductive argument as, "an argument in which the premisses add to the probability of the conclusion (that is, make the conclusion more likely or more probable than it would otherwise be) . . ." [1]

For example, if there were a bank theft, and John's fingerprints are found on the safe, that increases the likelihood that John committed the crime. In other words, this fact makes it more likely that John committed the crime than it would have been had his fingerprints not been found on the safe. The fingerprints are not sufficient evidence to conclude that John committed the crime, but they increase the probability.

Correct C-inductive arguments stand in contrast to correct P-inductive arguments, the latter of which "make the conclusion [itself] probable." [1]

With this in mind, a number of C-inductive arguments for the Assumption of Mary can be given. Suppose you find yourself convinced that the remains of the bodies of most Biblical saints (both OT and NT) are claimed by at least one city. Now suppose that the remains of Mary's body are not claimed by any city. Under the hypothesis that Mary's body was assumed into heaven either right before her death or immediately after her death (which is a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and, presumably, of some traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church), Mary's body would not remain on earth. The fact that no city claims her remains would be expected if she were assumed into heaven. In stark contrast, this would be relatively unexpected had she not been assumed into heaven (unless an equally plausible explanation can be given).

This fact, therefore, arguably constitutes a correct C-inductive argument for Mary's assumption into heaven. More colloquially, this is known as "circumstantial evidence." This is not sufficient evidence, but it makes her assumption more likely than it would have been had her remains been claimed.

[1] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 6.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Belief in God as Properly Basic

Take the crude evidentialist's axiom:

E: One should not believe that some proposition P is true without sufficient evidence.

Let's now assume that all of the arguments of natural theology are unsound. Let us further stipulate that there cannot be any sound argument of natural theology. Under such assumptions, there is no evidence for God's existence and there cannot be any such evidence. (Of course, I think these assumptions are mistaken.)

Taking these contentions at face-value, it follows that one should not believe that the proposition, "God exists," is true. However, a major difficulty arises when we begin examining some of our relatively uncontroversial beliefs. I'm thinking in particular of the following beliefs:

1. There exists an external world.

2. Minds other than my own exist.

3. The past has existed for more than five minutes.

The list can be extended much further, but it should be clear by now that none of these beliefs can be supported by way of evidence. How, for example, would one go about providing evidence that the past is more than five minutes, and that one's memories of an older past is not just illusory?

The problem is compounded further when we ask: what evidence is there in support of the E? If there is none, then E should be rejected on its own terms.

It seems, then, that the acceptance of these additional beliefs, if rationally believed, can be used as a part of a reductio ad absurdum against E. These rationally-held beliefs that happen to be non-evidence-based are called "properly basic beliefs." One is justified in believing that an external world exists, etc., even though he/she cannot prove via evidence or otherwise that the external world is not just illusory.

Plantinga and other philosophers have postulated that belief in God is also properly basic, and that belief in God can be rationally held with or without corresponding evidence. One obvious objection to this is that belief in God is not indispensable. A person may function just fine in society without believing in God. However, I think this objection falls short of being persuasive. I say this because other properly basic beliefs do not appear to be indispensable, either. If I were to adopt solipsism and believe that I am the only mind that exists, probably very little would change in my behavior. There are certain advantages in being kind, etc., even if altruism is illusory and it is for my own benefit alone. I would prefer to have pleasant illusions rather than unpleasant ones, after all.

Therefore, it seems quite unmistakable that indispensability is not the sole criterion for what constitutes a properly basic belief. As for belief in God being properly basic, there is likely something to that claim. Anthropology has shown an almost universal acceptance of God-belief among different cultures. This may suggest that theism is a naturally-held belief (a belief independent of specific culture), and if naturally-held beliefs are properly basic (are they?), it would follow that belief in God is properly basic.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Theory of Everything and Cosmic Fine-tuning

It has become overwhelmingly apparent that the universe is fine-tuned for life. It is astronomically more likely for a universe to exist which prohibits life, but here we are nonetheless. I will write more about this at a later time, but for now I just want to comment on attempts to develop a theory of everything (T.O.E.).

String theory is arguably one of the more promising T.O.E.'s circulating among physicists and cosmologists. What this theory, if successful, would show is that the four main forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces) are all expressions of a single force and type of particle: tiny vibrating strings. String theory proposes eleven dimensions of space and time.

What strikes me as odd is how some allude to string theory as an explanation for the universe's fine-tuning. While the theory would hypothetically explain the forces of nature, it simply pushes the question of the origin of fine-tuning back a step. Why, for example, does there have to be eleven dimensions of space and time? As Craig aptly notes, this just shifts the problem to one of "geometrical" fine-tuning.

The multiverse hypothesis is multiply flawed, as well. I will only mention here, because I am short on time, that even if there is a multiverse, the mechanism that produces the multiverse still needs to be explained. If the mechanism itself is fine-tuned, then the fine-tuning is still quite plausibly explained by intelligent design.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Why?" and "How?"

Why does the universe exist? Because God created it, answers the theist.

How did God create the universe? We have no idea. A common objection among some popularizers of atheism and on some internet discussion forums is that if we cannot know how God created the universe, then we are not justified in concluding that God did create the universe.

This claim is demonstrably false. Imagine the following fictitious discussion:

Julius Caesar: The sky looks so blue.
Brutus: How does the sky look blue?
Julius Caesar: I don't know.
Brutus: Then you can't say it looks blue.

Julius Caesar may not have had the advantage of accessing modern science, but it is plainly wrong to conclude that he wasn't justified in concluding the sky appears blue simply because he didn't know how its appearance is blue. One needn't know how something is true in order to know that it is true.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Inductive Argument Against an Infinite Regress of Non-temporal Causes

1. For any non-temporal causal regress, that regress is either finite or infinite. (Definition)

2. The causal regress of X is an attribute of X. (Premise)

3. If every observable attribute of X is finite, then the causal regress of X is most likely finite. (Premise)

4. Every observable attribute of X is finite. (Premise)

5. Therefore, the causal regress of X is most likely finite. (From 1 – 4)

Take, for example, my favorite illustration of a watch. The causal regress of one gear turning to cause another gear's turning is an attribute of the watch - in support of our second premise. (3) introduces induction to the argument. If attributes A, B, C, and D of X are all observed to be finite, the likelihood that E of X is also finite is increased significantly. Moreover, if all of the known attributes of X are finite, and none of them are infinite, it follows that all of X's attributes - both known and unknown - are most likely finite.

For any non-temporal causal regress, then, it follows that the regress itself is most likely finite, given the finitude of every other attribute. In arguing for a metaphysically necessary non-temporal First Cause, the inductive argument against an infinite regress may be combined with the following argument:

1*. Every existing entity is either contingent or necessary. (Premise)

In this context, an entity is contingent if it has its existence in another; and it is necessary if it is self-existent, and exists simply by virtue of the fact that it cannot not-be.

2*. If a non-temporal regress of causes is finite, then a metaphysically necessary First Cause exists. (Premise)

3*. The non-temporal regress of causes is most likely finite. (Premise)

4*. Therefore, a metaphysically necessary First Cause most likely exists. (From 2 and 3)

I tend to think that this argument is also applicable to strictly temporal causal events. So long as time is an attribute of a thing, the inductive argument may be modified to fit this change of focus.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA)

Many of you are probably familiar with Richard Taylor's famous illustration in support of the PSR. He reasons that if you were walking in a forest and came across a glowing translucent ball, you would immediately ask, "why is that translucent ball here?" You would find the response that it has no explanation quite unsatisfying, if intelligible at all. Rather, you would surely conclude that it has some explanation, even if you have no idea what the explanation is. Now imagine the ball were the size of a continent: it would still need an explanation. What about the size of a planet? Same problem. What if it were the size of the entire universe? Same problem. Merely increasing the size of the ball, or anything for that matter, doesn't at all do away with its need for an explanation. It seems quite plausible then to say:

1. Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, PSR)

A thing can be explained in one of two ways. A) It is the type of thing that exists because it cannot not-exist. Something necessary exists because it is self-sufficient. B) It is the type of thing that exists because it is dependent on another. This type of entity is not-self-sufficient. Both (A) and (B) are explanations, but they are different types of explanations.

Now, in order to make the LCA an argument for God's existence, our next premise must be justified:

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. (Premise)

Think of what the universe is for a moment: the totality of all physical space, time, matter and energy. Whatever explains the universe, then, must transcend the universe and be timeless, changeless, and immaterial, in addition to being enormously powerful. This is very close, at any rate, to being a God-concept.

Notice that it doesn't do any good to say that the universe has existed eternally. For, a translucent ball resting on the ground of a forest would still need an explanation even if it existed for all eternity. Just as we can't get around the need for an explanation by increasing the size of something, neither can we get around the need for an explanation by increasing its age.

Another objection might be that everything in the universe has an explanation, but that this isn't true of the universe itself. Every part of a mountain may be small, but this isn't necessarily true of the mountain itself. This objection may be disposed of by sticking with the same analogy. If every part of the mountain has an explanation, then the mountain itself must also have an explanation. (In fact, we know this to be true, anyway.) Likewise, it is special pleading to say that the universe itself has no explanation.

A final objection to premise (2) is that the universe exists by a necessity of its own nature. In order to successfully respond to this objection, all we need to do is show that the universe does not possess one or more attributes that something necessary would have to have. This is fairly easy to show. Take some changing entity X. X if becomes Y, then it is no longer the case that X. This implies that X doesn't exist necessarily. Now, the universe is constantly changing in that every part of the universe is at least capable of a change in location. This implies that the universe does not have necessary existence. The universe could be something other than what it is.

Our final premise:

3. The universe exists. (Premise)

Now, what follows from these three premises?

4. The universe has an explanation of its existence. (From 1 and 3)

5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe is God. (From 2 and 4)

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Scotist-Anselmian Modal Argument

Codgitator has written a helpful essay on the connection between the arguments of Duns Scotus (not to be confused with Doug Benscoter) and Anselm.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith

"The historical Jesus 'uncovered' (but actually reconstucted) in the Jesus Seminar . . . could scarcely be the object of Christian church proclamation. If Jesus was a wise Cynic preacher and teacher and nothing more, why should there be a religion based on him, given the prominence of other ancient teachers (Aristotle, Plato, Seneca, etc.)? If Jesus was chiefly a deluded apocalyptic preacher who wrongly thought the end of the world would come soon, why continue to proclaim him as the savior of the world? If Jesus' resurrection from the dead is simply a way of expressing the conviction that he is with God, why is he to be worshiped, given the many other saintly people who are surely with God? Those who advance such views of Jesus often claim they are trying to reshape Christian belief and proclamation. More bluntly, however, their views of Jesus would make traditional Christian belief illusory and traditional proclamation irresponsible."

-Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, 1997, pp. 828-829.

Brown's criticism of contemporary revisions of Jesus is direct and to the point. If the Jesus of history is not the same as the Jesus of faith, then why bother to preach the Gospel? Only if the Jesus of history really is the Jesus of faith - at least, if the historical Jesus claimed to be the Son of God - do we have any reason to dedicate our lives to him as we do. Anything less than the Jesus of faith would make him no greater than the other revered philosophers of antiquity. This is why it is so important that we not pick and choose from which teachings of Jesus we happen to fancy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Some really sobering words from a Church Father...

"God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination." -St. Augustine

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Moral Nihilism and the Modality of Moral Obligations

Suppose someone denies that there are objective moral obligations, e.g. moral obligations that persons everywhere are bound by. Imagine also that our skeptical friend is hesitant to accept the idea that something concrete could be logically necessary, but is willing to concede that propositions may be logically necessary. An example of a logically necessary proposition (one true in all possible worlds) would be this: "there are no square circles." Finally, suppose that objectivity entails logical necessity.

1. There are no objective moral obligations in the actual world. (Premise)

2. There are objective moral obligations in W. (Premise)

3. If there are objective moral obligations in W, then there are objective moral obligations in all possible worlds. (S5)

4. Therefore, there are objective moral obligations in all possible worlds. (From 2 and 3)

The actual world is a member of the set of all possible worlds. (1) is thereby false given the truth of (2) and (3), since (4) follows from (2) and (3). What this argument demonstrates is that the moral nihilist cannot merely say there are no objective moral obligations, but that objective moral obligations are literally impossible.

The argument from motion's alleged composition fallacy

Few of us have a beef with the first premise of the argument from motion:

1. Evident to the senses is motion. (Premise)

Things change, and we know this through observational experiences.

2. Everything in motion is moved by another. (Premise)

No potentiality can actualize itself. An acorn doesn't become an oak tree inexplicably. It requires external causes to actualize its potentiality: soil, water, sunlight, etc. (I repeat these analogies for the sake of possible newcomers to the blog.)

Now, I have defended formulated the third premise in the past like this:

3. If there is no First Mover, there will be no motion. (Premise)

I have defended this by pointing to various other illustrations that show once the cause of the set's motion is removed, then the motion of the set itself will cease. A watch without a spring will have no gears in motion. A train without an engine will have no boxcars in motion. Likewise, if the universe as a whole has no First Mover, then none of its parts will be in motion, which is obviously false.

From (1) through (3) it follows that:

4. Therefore, a First Mover exists. (From 1 and 3)

Analytically, we can know that the First Mover is not in motion (for everything in motion is moved by another - via the second premise). Yet, a thing can only be changeless if it is timeless (time is a measurement of change) and immaterial (every physical body is capable of being moved). The First Mover is also enormously powerful, since it is the cause of the universe's motion.

Now, there is an even more obvious way to express the third premise:

3*. The universe is in motion. (Premise)

This revised third premise is often subjected to the charge of a composition fallacy. The whole is not always like its parts. If every part of a floor is small, it doesn't follow that the floor as a whole is small.

However, there are instances in which the whole clearly is like its parts. For example, if every part of the floor is made of wood, then the floor as a whole is made of wood. So, which of these categories does the universe's motion fall under.

In order for the composition fallacy objection to work, it would have to be the case that everything in the universe is in motion, but that the universe as a whole is not in motion. But, surely this doesn't make any sense. For any interrelated whole that is composed of parts that are all in motion, the whole itself must also be in motion. It doesn't make sense to say the each of a train's parts is in motion, but that the train itself isn't in motion. In fact, the train itself must be in motion simply by virtue of the fact that all of its parts are in motion.

It seems clear, then, that the universe as a whole is in motion. This means that the universe's motion must be actualized by some external cause. This external cause is ultimately the First Mover. For, the universe just is the totality of all physical space, time, matter and energy. Therefore, the universe's mover must transcend physical space, time, matter and energy.

An additional objection often made is that in order for a thing X to be the cause of Y's motion, X must also be in motion. However, this objection is flawed for at least two reasons. First, X may move Y passively. For instance, one may be moved or changed upon the vision of a beautiful painting. It's not that someone is moved by virtue of the painting's motion, for the painting isn't actively doing anything. This is how Aristotle viewed the First Mover. The First Mover causes everything else to be in motion, but only by way of passivity.

However, this isn't my perspective. I believe that the First Mover (God) is more than a passive cause. The position that I adopt is that X need only be in motion to move Y if X is itself is already an entity subject to motion. Why, for instance, could an entity that transcends all motion not be the active cause of motion, and simply will motion eternally and without change? I have never read or heard a convincing argument against this hypothesis.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Just for kicks...

1. There is possibly a sound ontological argument.
2. Therefore, God exists. (From 1 and S5)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Arguing Inductively Against a Self-caused Universe

As mentioned previously, I run into very little opposition to the following argument:

1. The universe is either caused or uncaused. (Definition)

2. Complex things are most likely caused. (Premise)

3. The universe is complex. (Premise)

4. Therefore, the universe is most likely caused. (From 1 - 3)

In our experience, we all know why (2) is considered true. The only reservations are usually from radical Humeans. The earth, for example, is a complex thing, and we know that the earth was formed by (caused by) various cosmological and geological processes.

(3) is probably an understatement. The universe is astronomically complex (complexity being understood as the interrelationship between diverse objects), so given (1) - (3), it follows logically that the universe is most likely caused.

Interestingly, a number of atheistic philosophers agree with the conclusion that the universe is caused. Quentin Smith is one such atheistic philosopher, and he has argued that the universe is self-caused.

By way of introduction, we have two more disjunctions to consider. First:

5. The universe is either self-caused or externally caused. (Premise)

6. Nothing can be self-caused. (Premise)

7. Therefore, the universe is externally caused. (From 5 and 6)

Again, Smith would agree with both (4) and (5), but he disagrees with (6). He postulates that the universe, while being finite in the past, does not begin at a singularity. Rather, he says that t0 is an impossible state of affairs. His argument hinges on this and on the possibility that between any two moments immediately after the Big Bang, after t0 and before/at t1, there are infinitely-many points. So, t1 is caused by t1/2 and t1/2 is caused by t1/4. This process continues infinitely, such that every moment of time is explained by a previous one without t0 having been an actualized state of affairs.

This is much like treating 0 to 1 as an open interval, with 0 not being a point in the interval. This is problematic for at least two reasons. For one, Smith is assuming that the infinity of points between t0 and t1 are concrete and not merely abstract. Secondly, as Robin Collins points out in his response to Smith, if there were infinitely-many points between t0 and t1, this would result in all kinds of paradoxes.

Take the interval between t1/2 and t1. There are infinitely-many points between t1/2 and t1; but surely according to Smith's own argument, t1/2 is a point in the interval that has been actualized, e.g. t1/2 to t1 is not simply another open interval. Hence, an actual infinite is formed by successive addition, which is impossible, given that another member of the set can always be added before arriving at infinity.

Smith's argument for a self-caused universe, therefore, does not appear to be sound. Yet, are there arguments against the possibility of a self-caused universe, or against anything being self-caused? If there are, then we may consider the final disjunction:

8. The external cause of the universe is either personal or impersonal. (Premise)

The universe's external cause must already be timeless, changeless, immaterial, and enormously powerful. If a case can be made that the external cause of the universe is personal, then we have the icing on the cake of an argument for the existence of God. The focus for philosophers of religion, then, should be not only on the first disjunction (which we have already seen is almost certainly true), but on the second and third disjunctions.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spinoza's Ontological Argument

Spinoza is an interesting philosopher. I disagree with many of his conclusions, but there are others that I find ingenious. I'm not necessarily in support of his version of the ontological argument, but it's definitely something to think about.

1. Inability to exist is impotence. (Premise)

2. Ability to exist is power. (Premise)

3. If only finite entities exist, then finite entities are more powerful than an infinite entity. (From 1 and 2)

4. Finite entities are not more powerful than an infinite entity. (Premise)

5. Either an infinite entity exists or nothing at all exists. (From 3 and 4)

6. Something exists. (Premise)

7. Therefore, an infinite entity exists. (From 5 and 6) [1]

Premise (6) is, in fact, a posteriori. This leads many philosophers to conclude that Spinoza is here defending not an ontological argument, but a cosmological argument. I'm inclined to agree.

I can see (1) and (2) being somewhat controversial, but I also think most people would agree with both premises because of an intuition concerning the relationship between power and existence. Could something that has no power at all even exist? Moreover, isn't it a sign of power to exist necessarily than to possibly fail to exist at some time? This would also lend support to premises (3) and (4). Premise (5) is true (assuming that 1 - 4 are true) because if there were only finite entities in existence, it would be because they are more powerful than an infinite entity, which (4) states is false. As a result, it anything at all exists, it implies that an infinite entity exists. Given that something exists, per premise (6), it follows that an infinite entity (God) exists.

Where I obviously disagree with Spinoza is on his pantheism. He associates God (the infinite entity) with everything because he assumes that to be distinct from the infinite is to not exist at all, but to have any attribute in common with the infinite implies that the two entities are one and the same. The fallacy here is fairly easy to detect. Two entities can be distinct even though they share one or more attributes, since they may differ in other attributes. This is confirmed by our additional observations that some things (finite entities) come to be and pass away. They wouldn't fail to exist if they were identical with the infinite.

But, who knows? Maybe I'm oversimplifying Spinoza's view. In any case, it's something to think about.

[1] For a similar rendering, see: William Lane Craig, The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001, p. 244.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Contribution of Duns Scotus to the Cosmological Argument

Duns Scotus is often (and unfortunately) overlooked as one of the great medieval Christian philosophers. He is known for his vigorous defense of cataphatic theology (as opposed to apophatic, or negative, theology). His contribution to the cosmological argument, however, cannot be overstated. Although he offers reasons for rejecting a non-temporal infinite regress of causes, it is his possibility premise for the existence of a First Cause that in many ways may be compared to the recent developments of the ontological argument. Scotus reasons as follows:

1. A First Cause possibly exists. (Premise)

There doesn't appear to be any contradiction with the idea of a First Cause, and given the arguments against an infinite regress of non-temporal causes, (1) may even be an understatement.

2. Whatever is possible is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

3. Whatever is contingent can be actualized. (Premise)

Think of some contingent entity, such as a tree. We know that trees and other contingent entities are capable of being actualized, e.g. transitioned from a state of potentiality only to a state of actuality. (3) seems more reasonable than not.

4. A First Cause cannot be actualized. (Premise)

Assume the opposite. If a First Cause were ever actualized, then it is either: a) actualized by something external to itself, or b) self-actualized. (a) is impossible, since if anything else actualized the First Cause, then the First Cause wouldn't really be first at all. (b) is also impossible, since nothing can actualize itself. In order to actualize itself, an entity must first exist to be actualized, which is contradictory. Because (a) and (b) are necessarily false, it must also be necessarily false that a First Cause can be actualized. Hence, (4) is correct.

5. Therefore, a First Cause is necessary. (From 1 - 4).

In his excellent book, The Cosmological Argument, atheistic philosopher William Rowe doesn't dispute any of the premises of Duns Scotus' argument. Rather, what Rowe attempts to do is demonstrate that if this argument were correct, it would lead to all kinds of absurdities:

Surely it is possible for an everlasting star to exist. The stars that exist are presumably not everlasting--for each star, let us suppose, there was a time before which it did not exist and there will be a time at which it ceases to exist. But this seems to be an empirical fact and not a matter of conceptual or logical necessity. The idea of an everlasting star does seem to be a non-contradictory idea, even if no star is in fact everlasting. Let us grant, then, that

i. it is possible for an everlasting star to exist.

Now clearly we must grant that

ii. it is impossible for an everlasting star to come into existence. (If x comes into existence then by definition x is not everlasting.)

Moreover, since if something is produced by something else then there was a time before which it did not exist, we have

iii. it is impossible for an everlasting star to be produced by something else. [1]

Rowe concludes that if Scotus' cosmological argument (SCA) is correct, it can also be used to demonstrate that an everlasting star exists. But since we know that everlasting stars do not exist, something must be wrong either in the validity of the argument or in one of its premises.

The problem with Rowe's counter-argument is that it assumes a type of modality not necessarily entailed by Scotus. Even a star that is everlasting is being actualized by the matter that composes it. The analogy, then, of a non-actualized everlasting star seems to be incoherent and disanalogous to the SCA. For, the First Cause that Scotus envisages is simply not actualized at all. In other words, the First Cause doesn't require anything non-essential to itself to sustain its existence. Presumably, the matter of an everlasting star could logically be reconfigured.

Rowe, much to his credit, includes a footnote of this point. What the SCA entails is logical modality, and not metaphysical modality only. Rowe's objection is only successful if the SCA were to only apply metaphysical modality to the First Cause. After relating the possibility that the SCA may be including logical modality, Rowe simply moves on to discuss the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (LCA), and specifically Samuel Clarke's version of the LCA.

[1] William L. Rowe, The Cosmological Argument, Fordham University Press, 1998, pp. 52-53.

Friday, August 6, 2010

God and Abstract Objects

Brian Leftow has defended a version of the cosmological argument which posits that if God possibly causes abstract objects to exist, and abstract objects exist necessarily, then God must exist necessarily. One reason Leftow puts the argument this way (presumably) is to avoid the problem of compromising God's unique aseity. If God is not the only self-existent entity, then that is apparently a difficulty.

I wouldn't go that far. In fact, even if the Platonists are correct in saying that abstract objects have necessary existence, God's unique aseity may be salvaged by pointing out that only God stands in a causal relationship to other entities. Abstract objects, if they exist at all, are causally inert, so their aseity is of one type, whereas God's aseity is of another type. Nevertheless, the idea of anything other than God existing a se does leave the Christian, myself included, with an uneasy feeling.

The problem I see with Leftow's argument is that it doesn't seem to be possible to cause abstract objects, for the reason given above. If abstract objects literally cannot cause anything, why think they can be caused themselves? St. Augustine, having been trained in the neo-Plantonic tradition, solved this difficulty by postulating that abstract objects exist as concepts in the mind of God. This means that even though abstract objects exist a se, and are not caused to exist, they are still dependent on God's mental activity (theological conceptualism). I think we may incorporate Leftow's modal argument with this conceptualist model of abstract objects:

1. Abstract objects are possibly necessary. (Premise)
2. Whatever is possibly necessary is necessary. (Premise, S5)
3. Abstract objects possibly exist necessarily as mental concepts. (Premise)
4. Therefore, abstract objects are necessary concepts of a mind. (From 1, 2, and 3)
5. Abstract objects cannot be concepts only in contingent minds. (Premise)
6. Therefore, abstract objects are concepts of a necessary mind. (From 4 and 5)

Briefly, in support of (5), abstract objects (if they exist necessarily) cannot be concepts of just any mind. For, there are possible worlds in which contingent minds (such as you and I) do not exist, and so abstract objects must be concepts of a necessary mind in those possible worlds. Given (2), it follows that a necessary mind also exists necessarily.

Of course, there are also positive reasons (other than S5) to conclude that abstract objects must be mental concepts. One of these reasons is the causal objection against Plantonism.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What does it take for a theological claim to be rational?

I know this is a vague question, and I pose it vaguely on purpose. Consider the following:

1. The universe is either caused or uncaused. (Premise)

This premise is obviously true, since it rests upon the law of excluded middle and a very general consideration of the universe and causation.

Now, suppose someone adopts the first horn of the dilemma: the universe is caused. Is this claim obviously false? I doubt it, but I'm sure there is someone who thinks so. For the rest of us who acknowledge the universe's having a cause as a possibility, however, this leads us to:

2. If the universe is caused, it either has an external cause or it is self-caused. (Premise)

Again, the first horn of the dilemma in (2), "the universe has an external cause," is not obviously false. Now suppose that the conjunction C&E is true (where C = caused, and E = externally caused). On C&E, what can we know? Well, we can know that the external cause of the universe must transcend the universe (universe = the totality of physical space, time, matter and energy), which implies that the universe's cause is timeless, changeless (time is a measurement of change), and immaterial.

A final dilemma may be proposed:

3. If the universe has an external cause, that cause is either personal or non-personal.

If it is rational to believe in a personal external cause of the universe, then such a cause is plausibly God. There may be more reservation about this last one, but from my own intuitive perspective it is not obviously false that the universe's external cause is a personal agent.

Still, rationality usually entails more than the lack of obviously false assertions. Many would presume that we must have sound positive reasons to believe in a proposition, especially a proposition of this magnitude. A discussion of what constitutes rationality is therefore in order. However, there are some highly plausible arguments that suggest there exists a personal external cause of the universe. One of these is the Kalam Cosmological Argument, but the list may be multiplied to include many cosmological and teleological arguments, among others.

Consider, for instance, a sub-argument dealing with the dilemma of (1):

1A. Complex things are most likely caused.
1B. The universe is complex.
1C. Therefore, the universe is most likely caused.

I have found very little resistance to this line of reasoning. It is an inductive argument, and we experience the truth of (1A) all the time. My body is a complex organism, and it is caused by the function of my organs, and so forth (I'm thinking of a sustaining cause here). Of course, (1B) receives even less resistance, given that we clearly perceive that the universe is composed of countless diverse objects that are all interrelated. (1C) is therefore usually granted, even by the theological skeptic.

It is usually in arguing for an external cause of the universe that much more resistance is felt. The most resistance is, of course, reserved for the conclusion that the universe's external cause is personal. This is where the traditional arguments of natural theology come in handy. It is highly plausible, given what we know about the universe's composition, that the universe began to exist at a finite time in the past. Yet, its beginning is either caused or uncaused. I think you know the rest.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Inferring God's existence from miracles

Suppose that some event X occurs which cannot be explained by naturalism. Moreover, suppose X occurs repeatedly and is well-documented, but at the same time, is not repeatable (via laboratories, etc.). An example of this might be the stigmata, the apparently inexplicable appearance of Jesus' crucifixion wounds.

1. If a genuine occurrence cannot be explained by natural processes, it is either supernatural or inexplicable. (Premise)
2. The stigmata is a genuine occurrence that cannot be explained by natural processes. (Premise)
3. Hence, the stigmata is either supernatural or inexplicable. (From 1 and 2)
4. Genuine occurrences are not inexplicable. (Premise, PSR)
5. Therefore, the stigmata is supernatural. (From 1, 2, and 4)

I'm sure that there will be no trouble in accepting (1), (3), and to a slightly lesser extent (4). (4) assumes that events really have explanations, and do not just occur without any reason whatsoever. For someone who already accepts a fairly benign version of the PSR, that leaves us with (2).

The stigmata is a well-documented phenomena. [1] Naturalistic explanations range from deliberate hoax to psychosomatic self-infliction. Regardless of where one stands on this issue, I think it deserves more attention and study.

[1] See the following links:,

The Argument from Motion, Craig-style

William Lane Craig doesn't usually write much about the argument from motion (AFM) when presenting the cosmological argument. However, I think there is a way to understand the AFM in a way that compliments one of Craig's points.

For proponents of the AFM, such as myself, if there is motion in an interconnected whole, then the interconnected whole must have a First Mover. For example, a watch without a spring would not be in motion even if there were infinitely-many gears. A train without an engine would not be in motion even if there were infinitely-many boxcars. By analogy, the cosmos would not be in motion without a First Mover even if there were infinitely-many bodies. Therefore, given the motion of the cosmos, it follows via induction that a First Mover exists.

Now enters the Craig-style argument. Given that the First Mover is the cause of motion in the cosmos, the First Mover must transcend the cosmos (all physical space, time, matter and energy). Hence, the First Mover must be timeless, changeless (for time is a measure of change), and immaterial. It must also be personal. For, there are two things we know of that are immaterial: abstract objects and minds.* Yet, abstract objects do not stand in causal relations, so nothing abstract could cause the motion of the cosmos, or of anything for that matter. Therefore, the First Mover is a timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, which (per the Angelic Doctor) "everyone understands to be God."

*Of course, if one can coherently propose another alternative, then the argument about the First Mover being a mind will not necessarily follow.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What do we really value?

Today's Gospel included one of the most powerful messages in Holy Scripture. It was Luke 12:13-21:

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

This leads me to ask: what do we really value in life? Do we base our happiness on the fleeting possessions of this world? Or, do we ultimately find our deepest longings satisfied in another world? It seems obvious to me that every person in every culture has an innate desire for a perfect and lasting happiness. Yet, it is also true that such happiness cannot be found in this world. All of us will die some day, after all. Do we dare conclude as C.S. Lewis did, that we were made for another world?

It is always possible to put off giving our lives to our Lord, Jesus. We can say, "yeah, it all seems reasonable, but I'd like to know more first," but eventually we will have to make a decision. We cannot put off the decision forever, so the question remains: are we prepared to trust in God in the hopes that we will receive the treasures of heaven?

Personally, I want to be like Joshua: "As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15).

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Simple Version of the Modal Ontological Argument

Let "God" = a maximally great being (omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect in every possible world).

1. God's existence is either necessary or impossible. (Premise)

Implicit in (1) is that God cannot exist contingently. If God were contingent, then He wouldn't be maximally great, since it is greater to be necessary than to be contingent. The very understanding of God, then, requires that God is either a necessarily existent entity, or else impossible.

2. God's existence is not impossible. (Premise)

(2) is the more controversial premise. More on this below.

3. Therefore, God's existence is necessary. (Conclusion)

In short, it follows from (3) that God actually exists.

It remains to be seen whether (2) should be accepted. Intuitively, most of us probably grant that God's existence is at least possible; and obviously, if it is possible, then it is not impossible. However, a skeptic could easily reverse this:

(2'): God's existence is not necessary.

In support of (2'), one might appeal to the intuition that there is a possible world in which God does not exist.

One relevant question, then, is this: is the intuition of (2') as strong as the intuition of (2)? Both premises are question-begging, barring any additional argumentation that would either prove or make it likely that one premise is correct.

Perhaps the theist cannot prove that (2) is correct and that (2') is false, yet still be within her epistemic rights in believing that. This is Alvin Plantinga's position - e.g. the modal ontological argument is rationally acceptable, even if it is not a conclusive proof.

In any event, there have been some notable attempts to prove that God's existence is possible. Clement Dore and Robert Maydole immediately come to mind. Being someone who accepts the actual existence of a maximally great being (God), I'm especially interested in the developments of a proof of the possibility premise.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Michael Martin and the Thomistic Cosmological Argument

Arguably the best philosophical defense of atheism, in my opinion, can be found in Michael Martin's book, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. A successful response to Martin's arguments, therefore, will go a long way in providing evidence for the rational acceptability of belief in God. In his work, Martin treats the topics of negative atheism (giving objections to theistic arguments) and positive atheism (giving affirmative reasons to justify atheism, e.g. the problem of suffering). In this post, I would like to explore Martin's reasons for rejecting the Thomistic Cosmological Argument (TCA) [1] and provide an answer to these criticisms.

Martin begins, "In this argument [the Second Way] Aquinas attempts to show that there could not be an infinite series of efficient causes and consequently there must be a first cause. . . . An efficient cause of something, for Aristotle and Aquinas, is not a prior event but a substantial agent that brings about change." [2]

Martin is correct to point out that efficient causality is not envisaged as something that takes place in time necessarily. A house that exists from eternity still needs a foundation, even though the foundation doesn't precede the rest of the house in time. Rather, the foundation is causally prior, but not temporally prior, to the rest of the house.

Nevertheless, Martin is mistaken in saying that efficient causality has to do with change. The argument from change is Thomas' First Way, and not the Second Way. The Second Way has to do with why some thing X exists, and not why X changes. With that said, this observation is not detrimental to Martin's case, so we will continue without further comment on this point.

"[Thomas] believed that the here-and-now maintenance of the universe could not be understood in terms of an infinite causal series." [2]

This is a correct summation. Now onto Martin's objections:

"The first cause, even if established, need not be God . . ." [3]

Unfortunately for Martin, this rather swift dismissal of Thomas' conclusion completely overlooks the many additional arguments that Thomas offers in support of the first cause's possession of the divine attributes. The Five Ways are not the totality of Thomas' philosophical defense of theism. In fact, the vast majority of the Summa Theologiae in which Thomas argues specifically that the first cause is God is virtually ignored by Martin. As I have argued in my own echoing of Thomas' arguments, the first cause (Pure Being) is necessary, unique, eternal, all-present, and distinct from every other existing entity.

If Martin, or any other skeptic for that matter, is going to advance an objection that states the first cause is not God, then he will need to interact with the arguments pertinent to the establishment of the divine attributes. We will explore these in a moment.

"[A]nd Aquinas gives no non-question-begging reason why there could not be a nontemporal infinite regress of causes." [3]

This is one of the most common objections to the TCA. However, it's important to realize that the Summa Theologiae is literally a summary of theological and philosophical arguments. I maintain that Thomas' definitive argument against an infinite regress of causes can be found in De Ente et Essentia ("On Being and Essence"), which I summarize as follows:

1. Something exists. (Premise)

This is undoubtedly true, and Martin would agree. In order to doubt that I exist, I would first have to exist in order to doubt it.

2. Something exists only if there is such a thing as existence. (Premise)

It is at this point that Martin may simply disagree that existence is a thing at all. [4] Of course, existence can easily be shown to be a thing in at least one sense, even if it is not a thing in the sense that Kant meant. To illustrate, what is the difference between a real dollar bill and an imaginary one? Obviously, the essence (essence = what a thing is, its nature) of each is the same, but the real dollar bill has existence! Would Martin maintain that things can differ by a non-thing? Maybe he wouldn't go that far, but if so, I think he would simply be mistaken.

Existence is at least a thing insofar as existence is real. If existence were not real, then nothing would exist, which is patently false.

3. The essence of existence is Pure Being. (Premise)

If the essence of a dollar bill is a dollar bill (e.g. it has a specific shape, size, color, smell, etc.), then what is the essence or what-ness of existence? The essence of existence is existence itself, or what metaphysicians call Pure Being. [5]

4. Therefore, Pure Being exists. (Conclusion)

The argument is logically valid, and we have seen that each premise is correct, so the conclusion is likewise true: Pure Being exists. Pure Being is the first cause that Thomas alludes to in his Five Ways. In fact, even granting that there could be an infinite regress of causes, Pure Being is still needed in order to explain the existence of that regress, or of anything at all.

Now, let's consider whether Martin's objection that the first cause may not be God holds after further scrutiny. The first cause (Pure Being) must as a matter of necessity possess at least five additional qualities: necessity, unicity, eternality, omnipresence, and distinction from everything else that exists. I defend these attributes in my defense of the TCA as linked to above. Nonetheless, I will reproduce these arguments here.

Imagine a state of affairs in which nothing exists. In this case, there would be an existing state of affairs in which nothing exists, which is self-contradictory. This means that something must exist. But, since Pure Being is needed to ground the existence of anything, Pure Being must exist by necessity.

Pure Being must also be unique. For, if there were more than one Pure Being, then there would be distinctions between them. However, whatever is distinct from existence is non-existence, and because non-existent things simply do not exist, it follows that there is only one Pure Being.

Next, Pure Being is eternal and all-present. For every time and place that something exists, Pure Being must ground those times and places in which something exists. Therefore, there is no time or place in which Pure Being does not exist, so Pure Being is eternal and all-present.

Finally, Pure Being is distinct from everything else that exists. Other entities, such as a dollar bill, have an essence distinct from their existence. In short, a dollar bill is not existence itself. Now, if A is X, and B is not X, then A and B must be distinct. Hence, given that Pure Being is existence itself, and everything else is not existence itself, it follows that Pure Being is distinct from everything else.

One question about this final attribute is that if everything else is distinct from Pure Being, then how can anything else exist? The answer is that these other things do not differ from Pure Being in existence. Rather, they differ only in essence. Everything that exists does so because it participates in the single existence that there is, in Pure Being. Things differ in their essences, or natures, or what-nesses.

Of course, one could still maintain that Pure Being is not personal, etc., so that Pure Being is possibly not the God of classical theism. However, Pure Being is at least demonstrably like God. [6] For now, I will leave that for another discussion.

In sum, Martin has not successfully refuted the TCA, nor has he even attempted to analyze the most pertinent aspects of the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical arguments for the existence of Pure Being and its divine attributes. With that said, I maintain that the TCA is a sound argument for God's existence.

[1] Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Temple University Press, 1990, pp. 97-100.

[2] ibid., p. 98.

[3] ibid., p. 99.

[4] ibid., p. 81.

[5] Also known as Pure Existence and Pure Actuality.

[6] Maybe it is something like the Hindu concept of Brahman. I don't think so, but either way, we're not left with atheism.