Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Can the kalam argument be defended inductively?

By "induction," I'm not referring to the scientific evidence, although much can be said about that. Rather, are there inductive philosophical grounds for affirming the KCA's key second premise?

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. (Premise)

2. The universe began to exist. (Premise)

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause. (From 1 and 2)

I suppose that (1) can be supported through induction in addition to the ex nihilo principle. Our experience of things that begin to exist leads us to believe that they are caused. As far as (2) is concerned, one could point to the other known aspects of the universe. Are the universe's limitations the result of finite characteristics or infinite ones? The universe's finitude is almost built into the very concept of its having limitations.

With this in mind, what is the probability given the background information and our knowledge of the universe's other qualities that the universe's past is infinite? It would appear to be very low, unless of course we have compelling evidence to believe that it's infinite. But, there just aren't any arguments for the universe's having an infinite past. Skeptics spend almost all of their time trying to answer arguments for the universe's finite past.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Revised ACA

I'm not sure which one I prefer:

1. Every dependent entity has a sustaining cause. (Premise)

2. Either there is an independent first cause, or the regress of dependent sustaining causes is infinite. (Implied by 1)

3. The regress of dependent sustaining causes cannot be infinite. (Premise)

4. Therefore, an independent first cause exists. (From 2 and 3)

This version of the ACA does not require the PSR, but only supposes that there are, in fact, some entities that are causally dependent on others.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Aristotelian Cosmological Argument (ACA) - Revised

I like to revise and rephrase these arguments from time to time, so please forgive me if you've read something similar here a hundred times before.

1. Every contingent entity has a sustaining cause. (Premise)

2. Either there is a necessary first cause, or the regress of contingent sustaining causes is infinite. (Implied by 1)

3. The regress of contingent sustaining causes cannot be infinite. (Premise)

4. Therefore, a necessary first cause exists. (From 2 and 3)

This "necessary first cause" is synonymous with the "ground of being," which is God to those of us with a theistic persuasion.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Happy Holidays?

Americans have always prided themselves on being a great melting pot. We have a plethora of traditions, religious beliefs, and cultural leanings that are equally "American" and thereby protected by our Constitution. I have to wonder whether the advocates of the "Happy Holidays" greeting, as well as the Holiday Tree, etc., are actually doing a disservice to political correctness. Here's what I mean.

When I was in graduate school, one of my Jewish professors wished us a Happy Easter. We didn't gasp or correct him or ask him to be more politically correct. Rather, we thanked him and wished him a Happy Passover.

The lesson I take away from moments like these is that true political correctness promotes inclusion, rather than exclusion or trivializing neutrality. I'm a Christian, and I don't celebrate the holidays of non-Christian faiths. Yet, when my Jewish friend wishes me a Merry Christmas, I have no qualms about wishing him a Happy Hanukkah. If somebody wants to put up a Christmas tree in a public forum, I say great. Just don't patronize us by calling it anything other than a Christmas tree. Moreover, I think we should also welcome the inclusion of a menorah, and any other religious symbol for that matter.

So sure, Happy Holidays! But, make sure that means inclusion.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Does the Third Way work assuming a finite universe?

The traditional Third Way was meant to show that a necessary entity exists by positing a universe eternal in the past.

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

2. Something exists now. (Premise)

3. If something exists now, then something or other has always existed. (Premise)

4. Hence, something or other has always existed. (From 2 and 3)

5. The past is infinite. (Assumption)

6. Given infinite time, all potentialities will have been actualized. (Premise)

7. The concurrent non-existence of all contingent entities is a potentiality. (Premise)

8. Hence, the concurrent non-existence of all contingent entities has been actualized. (From 5, 6 and 7)

9. Therefore, a necessary entity exists. (Implied by 1, 4 and 8)

Now, what if we assume the negation of (5), keeping the (1) through (4) the same?

5'. The past is finite. (Assumption)

6'. Given finite time, the concurrent non-existence of all contingent entities has been actualized. (Premise)

7'. Therefore, a necessary entity exists. (Implied by 1, 4 and 6').

The new debate would probably center around (6'). Could a contingent entity exist at t0, a sort of undifferentiated time? A modalized version of the Third Way would be immune to such an objection, since it's at least possible that nothing contingent existed at t0.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forming an Actual Infinite By Successive Addition

Philosophers are divided on whether or not an actual infinite can exist and, secondly, on whether an actual infinite (if possible in and of itself) can be formed by successive addition. Karl Popper, for example, objects to Craig's argument that an actual infinite cannot be formed by successive addition. Popper states that the problem only arises if we assume that there is a point in the infinite past. However, there is no point in the infinite past, since infinity is not a number per se, but a set of numbers.

Even assuming that this objection is satisfactory, it does nothing to undermine the Aristotelian argument against an infinite regress of essentially ordered causes. Let's assume that the past is infinite. Keep in mind that the infinity of past events is still composed of finite periods of time. Now, for each finite period of time, a new regress of sustaining causes begins to be instantiated:

..., -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0

So, at -5 we have a new regress of sustaining causes; and the same is true for -4, -3, and so on.

Cn Cn Cn
C3 C3 C3
C2 C2 C2
C1 C1 C1
-5, -4, -3, . . .

Before -4 can begin its instantiation of sustaining causes, all of the sustaining causes of -5 must be instantiated. However, beginning with C1 of -5, the regress of sustaining causes cannot arrive at infinity, since we are in fact beginning with a point (more specifically, a cause). This means the Aristotelian argument is immune to Popper's criticism. After all, there is an obvious disparity between an infinite past and an infinite regress of sustaining causes. While the former does not have a first point, the latter most certainly does.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Contingency and Design Arguments

An acceptance of the PSR leads one to believe that the whole of contingent reality C has an explanation of its existence. Now, an explanation can be of one of two types: a thing's explanation is found either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. Since C does not exist by a necessity of its own nature, it follows that C's explanation is found in an external cause. This external cause must be a necessary and eternal entity N, as well as very powerful in order to cause something as vast as C.

Let's suppose the atheist not only denies that N is God, but that there is any such entity as N. The atheist could do this, for example, by denying the PSR. The problem is that this presents the atheist with a new challenge. For, design arguments often present the uniformity of nature or the fine-tuning of the universe's initial conditions within the context of a trilemma:

1. The laws of nature are either due to necessity, chance, or design. (Premise)

One would be hard-pressed to think of a fourth alternative to premise (1). Keeping in mind the atheist's denial of the argument from contingency, especially the existence of N, we are led to premise (2):

2. The laws of nature are not due to necessity or chance. (Premise)

From these two premises, it follows that:

3. Therefore, the laws of nature are due to design. (From 1 and 2)

But surely the atheist does not want to affirm (3)! Yet, he already denies one of his alternatives, which leaves him with only one option: the affirmation that the laws of nature (and/or the universe's fine-tuning) are due exclusively to chance. Remember, there is no N at all according to this radical position, so the laws of nature cannot be the products of a combination of necessity and chance.

Obviously, if the chance hypothesis doesn't pan out (and there are good reasons to think it doesn't), one must accept that N exists and/or that the laws of nature are designed. Whichever route is taken, a large chunk of either the contingency or design arguments must be affirmed as a matter of consistency.

Friday, October 21, 2011

De Ente et Essentia and the First Way

Thomas argues in De Ente et Essentia that God is Pure Act, or existence itself subsisting. His metaphysical argument is the ground of the first four of his five ways in proof of God's existence. The argument from motion, the first of these, specifically recalls the transition of a thing's potentiality to actuality. For example, an acorn exists as an acorn in actuality and as an oak tree in potentiality.

Since no potentiality can actualize itself (an acorn needs water, sunlight, etc), it follows that some actuality is needed to actualize a potentiality. Since Pure Act just is existence itself, it's not hard to see why Thomas associates Pure Act with God. All potentialities are possibly actualized, and nothing is actualized apart from Pure Act (existence), so Pure Act ultimately has power over all potentialites and is therefore omnipotent.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Euthyphro Dilemma

I'm of the opinion that Euthyphro should have been the one asking Socrates the questions. Roughly, the modern defender of the alleged dilemma asks, "is something good because God wills it, or does God will something because it is good?" Let's tackle this question by separating each part of the disjunction:

A. X is good because God wills it.

B. God wills X because X is good.

Now, in order for this to be a true dilemma, B must be the negation (or the equivalent to the negation) of A. Otherwise, the disjunction that Socrates presents is a false dilemma. Euthyphro should have asked Socrates why A and B are contradictory. Why can it not be the case that both A and B?

In debating the question over the years, it has become clear to me that defenders of the dilemma are making a very crucial assumption. What the Euthyphro Dilemma requires in order to work properly is the implication that B entails independence of God. A and B should really be rephrased like this:

A'. X, which is good, is dependent on God.

B'. X, which is good, is independent of God.

Obviously, A' and B' are mutually incompatible, but this raises an even more obvious question: why not simply state the dilemma like this? The answer is likely that Euthyphro would have simply affirmed A'. Hence, there is no dilemma for him to consider. What Socrates and his modern counterpart have to defend is that B entails B'. Are there any forthcoming arguments to support this? I doubt it. In any case, the theist should not accept the burden of proof in trying to explain away the (false) dilemma. Rather, the dilemma's defender ought to accept responsibility for arguing that B and B' are ultimately identical.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Leibnizian Kalam Argument?

Staying with my recent approach of tossing up new arguments and seeing what sticks, I thought I'd give this a try. I've defended several modal cosmological arguments before, but this time I want to take some Leibnizian and kalam considerations into account.

1. Possibly, everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, W-PSR)

2. Necessarily, whatever begins to exist is contingent. (Premise)

3. Possibly, the universe began to exist. (Premise)

4. Possibly, the universe is contingent. (From 2 and 3)

5. Hence, the universe is contingent. (From 4 and S5)

6. Possibly, whatever is contingent has an external cause. (Premise, implied by W-PSR)

7. Possibly, the universe has an external cause. (From 5 and 6)

8. Necessarily, if the universe has an external cause, that cause is a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful first cause. (Premise)

9. Possibly, a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful first cause exists. (From 7 and 8)

10. Necessarily, a first cause is either necessary or contingent. (Definition)

11. Necessarily, a first cause cannot be explained by anything else. (Premise)

12. Necessarily, a first cause is explained by a necessity of its own nature. (From 1 and 11)

13. Therefore, a timeless, changeless, immaterial, and very powerful first cause exists. (Implied by 12)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Modalizing Descartes

1. Whatever is conceivable C is possibly caused by an existing C's impression. (Premise)

2. A perfect being is conceivable. (Premise)

3. Hence, the conception of a perfect being is possibly caused by a perfect being's impression. (From 1 and 2)

4. Hence, a perfect being possibly exists. (Implied by 3)

5. Therefore, a perfect being exists. (From 4 and S5)

Besides the usual unpackaging of (4), this argument is defensible. Descartes held that in order to conceive of something, there had to be an impression of that conception caused by the entity being conceived. That's a bit of a mouthful, but the idea can be illustrated by connotation, as opposed to strict denotation. The reason I can conceive of a horse is because I have seen an existing horse. Even imaginary entities, such as a unicorn, are just an amalgamation of existing things, e.g. a horse (which exists) and a horn (which exists on other animals).

Now, instead of contending that Descartes' strong principle is correct, we can actually weaken it and still arrive at the same conclusion. If it is even possible for a conception to be caused in the manner described above, it follows that a perfect being (omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect in every possible world) possibly exists. All that's left is a defense of the rather uncontroversial S5 axiom, and we have a successful ontological argument for God's existence.

Of course, I don't expect anyone to be persuaded by this argument if they're not persuaded by similar ones, e.g. the modal third way, that have arguably even more modest premises.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Epistemological Argument Against a Beginningless Universe

Suppose that a beginningless universe is metaphysical possible. With this assumption in mind, it may still be shown that it is irrational to believe in such a universe.

1. If the universe is beginningless, then its past is infinite. (Premise)

2. An infinite past yields infinitely-many actualities. (Premise)

3. If there are infinitely-many actualities, then it is epistemically impossible to weigh any probability. (Premise)

4. Probability can be epistemically weighed. (Premise)

5. Therefore, it is irrational to believe in an infinite universe. (From 1 - 4)

The logic of the argument as stated is pretty loose, but one can follow the reasoning of the premises to the conclusion fairly naturally, I think. (1) is obviously true, and (2) is almost entirely uncontroversial. (4) must be true in order for probability and induction to survive, and these principles are indispensable toward rationality. This leaves us with (3).

Imagine the lines of evidence both for and against a beginningless universe. Further, imagine that the evidence on both sides is inexhaustible. We can represent the evidence for a beginningless universe with the set of all odd numbers {1, 2, 3, . . . n}, and the evidence against a beginningless universe with the set of all even numbers {2, 4, 6, . . . 2n}. This scenario should be expected, given the existence of infinitely-many actualities.

But if this is the case, how can the probability of either hypothesis be reasonably assessed? For every line of evidence for a beginningless universe, there is an equally strong line of evidence against it. Yet, we all know that the probability of a hypothesis can be reasonably assessed. If this is correct, then it follows that it is inconsistent with probability for there to be infinitely-many actualities to take into account. Because of the epistemic warrant for probability, then, it seems that the rejection of infinitely-many actualities, and therefore a beginningless universe, is preferable.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Mereological Argument Based on Alethic Realism

1. There are true propositions. (Premise)

2. Every true proposition is part of a maximally alethic state of affairs A. (Premise)

3. The contents of A are possibly known by a mind. (Premise)

4. Hence, an omniscient mind possibly exists. (implied by 1 - 3)

5. A possibly existent omniscient mind either has necessary or contingent existence. (Premise)

6. An omniscient mind cannot exist contingently. (Premise)

7. Therefore, a necessary and omniscient mind exists. (From 4 - 6)

I currently accept (6) solely on intuition. I'm sure some argument can be forged for its plausibility, but I wonder if such an argument would be persuasive and (more importantly) sound.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Transcendental Argument

That's right: a classical Aristotelian is defending a version of the so-called "transcendental argument" for God's existence. First, what does it mean for something to be transcendental? In a few quick words, the term refers to a thing's necessary preconditions. In order for water to exist, it must be composed of hydrogen and oxygen. H2O is, therefore, a transcendental of water.

More seriously, we might ask: how do we know X is true? Before determining whether X corresponds to reality in fact, we must determine whether X is logically coherent. Unless something is consistent with the laws of logic, then, it cannot exist. I realize I'm dumbing it down a bit here, but believe it or not, there are actually people who reject this line of thought. I won't pursue such a radical perspectivism at this juncture, though. In any case, the laws of logic are a necessary precondition of rational inquiry. Let's start our argument like this:

Axiom 1. One cannot be rational while rejecting rational inquiry.

Axiom 2. One cannot be rational while undermining the necessary preconditions of rational inquiry.

Here, now, is the first part of the proof, via reductio ad absurdum:

Prove A: The laws of logic are universal.

Assume ~A: The laws of logic are not universal.

~A --> B: If the laws logic are not universal, X can be ~X.

~B: X cannot be ~X.

~~A: by modus tollens.

Therefore, A: by negation, the laws of logic are universal.


Most fundamental to the laws of logic are the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle. I would also add the transitive axiom (if A = B, and B = C, then A = C) to that list. In order to engage in rational inquiry, one must be consistent with at least these four laws of logic. They are transcendentals of rational inquiry.

Now comes the next part: from universality to existence. Does the universality of logic entail that it exists? One reason to think it does is that if X possesses the attribute of universality (I've also mentioned indispensability in the past), then X must exist. For, non-existent entities cannot possess any attributes whatsoever. The positive attribute of universality provides us with solid ground to accept the laws of logic as having an ontological instantiation throughout reality.

However, the laws of logic are abstract objects. They don't stand in any causal relations to other entities. For example, the number 5 cannot mow my lawn or pick up my laundry. So in what sense do these abstract objects, especially the laws of logic, exist?

We have already ruled out a strong form of nominalism. We are left Platonism and conceptualism. The argument may go something like this:

1. Abstract objects are either a) non-existent, b) mind-independent entities, or c) mental concepts.

2. Abstract objects exist. (contrary to 1a)

3. Abstract objects are not mind-independent. (contrary to 1b)

4. Therefore, abstract objects are mental concepts. (From 1 - 3)

Now, why think premises (2) and (3) are correct? We have already given a defense the ontological instantiation of abstract objects, based on their having the attributes of universality and indispensability. As I stated above, the real meat of the debate is between the Platonist and the conceptualist. I concede that I find the arguments for the existence of abstract objects so compelling that if, hypothetically, I were to abandon conceptualism, I would gladly embrace Platonism.

Nevertheless, I think there are good arguments in favor of conceptualism, as well as good arguments against Platonism. Assuming that abstract objects are mind-independent entities that also lack any causal relations, how can we possibly have knowledge of them? There is a causal relationship between the mind knowing and the object being known by the mind. For example, as I look into my laptop's monitor, my eyes act as part of a bridge in the causal relationship between my mind and the monitor.

But on Platonism, there just is no causal relationship to appeal to because abstract object are causally effete. It is for this reason alone that I believe Platonism should be abandoned in favor of conceptualism.

The really interesting part here is that abstract objects cannot be grounded in just any mind. For there are contingent minds, much as myself, who are incapable of grounding any necessary truths. Instead, we ought to conclude that there exists a necessary mind that grounds abstract objects. But not only is this necessary mind the ground of abstract objects. Still further, this necessary mind must know all true propositions. The union of all true propositions is itself an abstract object. Since only an omniscient mind could know all true propositions, it follows that a necessary, eternal, omniscient mind exists.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Plausible Ontological Argument

1. Necessarily, something exists. (Premise)

2. There is a possible state of affairs at which nothing contingent exists. (Premise)

3. If something exists and nothing contingent exists, then something necessary exists. (From 1 and 2)

4. Hence, something necessary possibly exists. (From 2 and 3)

5. Therefore, something necessary exists. (From 4 and S5)

Like all ontological arguments, it is really premise (1) that is most controversial. However, I think that the above premise (1) is quite obviously true, and not nearly as controversial as the usual "a maximally great being possibly exists." In its denial of ontological nihilism, the proponent may simply stress that a state of affairs at which nothing at all exists would itself be an existing entity. Of course, this commits us to either realism or conceptualism, the latter of which I prefer.

I would argue further that this necessary entity is a mental concept, which could only be grounded in a necessary mind, e.g. God. However, I don't want to pursue that argument at the moment.

For those skeptical of S5, let's instead consider the following reductio, having already granted the truth of (1) and (2):

Assume (6): a necessary entity does not exist. (6) and (2) imply that there is a possible state of affairs at which nothing exists. However, this contradicts (1), which states that something or other must exist. Therefore, (6) is false, and (5) is true. An appeal to S5, while legitimate, is unnecessary in this case.

Naturally, the Platonist will gladly accept the conclusion of this argument. If he is also an atheist, though, then he will presumably insist that the necessary entity concluded to in (5) is one of the forms, and not a concrete entity, such as God. The debate, then, turns upon whether one should adopt Platonism or conceptualism, but I regress.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is Existence a Predicate? Does it Matter?

Many of us dismiss the ontological argument as demonstrably unsound by reciting Kant's famous dictum that "existence is not a predicate." Besides the context of this line being directed toward Descartes' ontological argument, which is irrelevant to any modal versions of the proof, there seems to be a certain impertinence of it with respect to other arguments for God's existence.

Take, for example, an argument I am quite fond of: the Thomistic cosmological argument (TCA). The TCA, in its most basic form, suggests that being, or existence, or actuality, is an entity in its own right. What's interesting about this is that Kant even appears to be persuaded by this line of thought at times. As he points out, one would much rather possess an existing fortune than a non-existing one. Yet, doesn't this require an ontological difference between the two?

If being is not a real entity, then it is strictly a non-entity. But, how can two things be distinct through a non-entity, e.g. nothing? To be distinct through nothing is to be identical, so it appears manifest that being is itself an entity. Given that something exists, then, it follows that being exists.

Since I have argued on multiple occasions that being itself is Pure Act, I won't repeat myself at this time. Nevertheless, it's worth considering that we ought to be cautious when citing Kant's dictum. Besides the skeptic's interpretation, we have two additional alternatives: a) Kant was wrong; or b) Kant is being misinterpreted. I'm inclined to accept the latter.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Argument from Divine Hiddenness

I've always maintained that the only atheistic argument that carries any weight whatsoever is the problem of suffering. Even if this argument were successful (and I hold that it's not), that wouldn't mean there is no God, but only that there is no maximally great God. The so-called argument from divine hiddenness (ADH) goes something like this:

1. If God exists, there would most likely be compelling evidence that he exists. (Premise)

2. There is no compelling evidence that God exists. (Premise)

3. Therefore, God most likely does not exist. (From 1 and 2)

I will grant premise (1), although there are theists who would challenge even that premise. However, premise (2) seems to be nothing more than question-begging. In order to justify (2), the proponent of the ADH would have to simultaneously refute, or otherwise undermine, each of the arguments for God's existence. In fact, the Bible states, "since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). Why think that Paul is wrong?

It turns out, then, that the ADH is really just a round about way of denying the arguments of natural theology.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Is Hitler to blame for the War in Vietnam?

The Angelic Doctor* points to the diversity of objects that are united within a single order as being evidence for the existence of God. There are obvious examples of this: gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces are the most fundamental forces we are aware of today. However, I'm interested in considering some examples that are not so obvious.

Consider Hitler's invasion of France in 1940. As a result of the conquest, France lost control of its colonies, including Vietnam. Upon the end of WWII and France's renewed interest in taking back Vietnam, the people of Vietnam were no longer willing to be ruled by a foreign power. This is part of the reason Ho Chi Minh was able to solidify his rule in North Vietnam, and ultimately, all of Vietnam.

Now, the United States' involvement in the War of Vietnam was fueled primarily by the ideal of containment: to prevent the spread of communism. It's not so implausible to think that if Hitler had never invaded France, that the chain of events would not have transpired as they did. France never would have lost its colonies, and Ho Chi Minh never would have had enough support to lead his country in the direction of communism, making U.S. intervention superfluous. It is in this sense that Hitler may be considered one of the causes of the conflict in Vietnam.

*St. Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Axiological-Ontological Argument

1. A world in which God exists is better than a world in which God does not exist. (Premise)

2. Better/worse relations are only veridical if the referents of those relations possibly exist. (Premise)

3. Hence, God possibly exists. (From 1 and 2)

4. Therefore, God exists. (From 3 and S5)

The inference from (3) to (4) entails the usual unpacking that the ontological argument provides. I'm having a hard time coming up with any good objections to either (1) or (2), but maybe I'm overlooking something.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What Counts as Evidence for God?

In the past few weeks, I have witnessed philosophers, William Lane Craig and Victor Reppert, focus in on a specific atheistic charge: "there is no evidence that God exists." Their response is certainly in line with that of Richard Swinburne and his concept of a correct C-inductive argument. Let's give a few examples:

If God exists, a world with fine-tuning is more likely to exist than a world without fine-tuning.

If God exists, a world in which we recognize objective laws of logic, science, morality, and aesthetics is more likely to exist than a world without such recognition.

If God exists, a world in which contingent being have external causes is more likely to exist than a world in which they do not have external causes.

If God exists, a world in which the miraculous occurs is more likely to exist than a world in which there are no miracles.

Of course, the absence of these characteristics is not conclusive evidence that God does not exist, either. And, that's what it comes down to. Perhaps what the atheist should say is not that there is no evidence that God exists, but rather that there is no conclusive evidence that God exists. However, even that doesn't seem to be much of a claim for atheism. For, it could still be more plausible that God exists than not, even if the evidence is not conclusive per se. So, let's revise this some more. What the atheist should ultimately be saying is that there is no compelling evidence that God exists.*

For any fact X, if X's instantiation makes God's existence more plausible than it would be the case if ~X is instantiated, then the fact of X counts as evidence that God exists. Whether X provides us with conclusive or compelling evidence that God exists is moot.

*This still isn't enough to justify atheism, though, in any traditional sense of the term, "atheism." What the atheist would need to show is not only that there is no compelling evidence that God exists, but also that there is compelling evidence that God does not exist. The former would only justify non-theistic alternatives, such as agnosticism.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Universe Governed By Law

In a world where God exists and has designed the universe, we would expect the universe to be governed by certain laws: logical, mathematical, scientific, moral, and even aesthetic. Given that our universe is governed by such laws, this is inductive evidence that God exists, to say nothing of deductive arguments (e.g. the conceptualist argument).

The Atlantic, a political magazine I have recently subscribed to and have enjoyed quite a bit thus far, features an article by Judith Lewis Mernit in its June edition. The article, "Is San Francisco Next?," discusses the manner in which seismologists predict earthquakes. Now, what is the connection between these first two paragraphs I've just written?

Mernit comments, "Some established geophysicists insist that all earthquakes are random, yet everyone agrees that aftershocks are not. Instead, they follow certain empirical laws." This raises an important question: does our ignorance of what the law-like mechanism behind earthquakes are imply that there are no such laws? To treat Mernit's statement as if she is answering in the affirmative would be, I think, uncharitable. After all, much of the article subsequently goes on to explain what the mechanisms that cause earthquakes (and how we can predict them) might be.

For example, Mernit points out that "[r]ocks can be subject to two kinds of stresses" that result in earthquakes (clamping and shearing). Obviously, rocks and other physical objects are subject to laws of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces are most fundamental to the universe), and so it would be hasty for the reader to conclude that geophysicists are talking about earthquakes being entirely devoid of laws.

The conclusion we should draw from this example is that ignorance of law (an epistemological issue) does not at all imply the absence of law (a metaphysical issue). I just worry that some readers may take "random" to mean "devoid of law," which simply isn't the case. In my mind it's more hyperbole than anything else.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Williame Rowe's Evidential Version of the Problem of Suffering, Plus the Ontological Argument Once More

William Rowe, like most philosophers of religion today, rejects the notion that "God exits" is logically incompatible with pain and suffering. I will delve into the logical problem of suffering at a later time, but for now I want to focus on the implications of Rowe's argument. "God" is to be understood not only as a Creator/Designer/Sustainer of the universe, but as a maximally great being (all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect). Rowe himself argues like this:

1. Pain and suffering exist. (Premise)

2. If God exists, we would most likely know what the morally sufficient reasons God has for allowing pain and suffering are. (Premise)

3. We do not know what the morally sufficient reasons are. (Premise (3)

4. Therefore, God most likely does not exist. (From 1 - 3)

Again, Rowe isn't arguing in favor of atheism. Even if he is correct above, there could still exist a very powerful personal Creator, and so forth. Rowe is only arguing against God as a maximally great being.

First, the theist could challenge any of the premises. Premise (1) should be granted because of its perspicuity. (3) is debatable. The Free Will Defense serves as a refutation that we do not know why God would allow pain and suffering. I don't want to focus on this too much at this time, though. I'm much more interested in (2).

It has become almost a mantra among some of our secular friends that evidence is needed in order to conclude that something exists. As much as I disagree with this, it may be granted for the sake of argument. For instance, suppose that you are accused of a crime and all the available evidence suggests you are in fact guilty. Yet, you know you are innocent. Surely you are not compelled to believe that you committed the crime. This is because your experience of the incident provides you with warrant to maintain your innocence. This warrant is an overwhelming defeater of the evidence against you. Now, you may not be able to persuade law enforcement that you are innocent, but that point is moot, since we are focusing on your own epistemic justification.

Now, for the one who has heard the problem of suffering as defended by Rowe, but is also aware of the argument of natural theology for God's existence, could we not have a similar case? Take the ontological argument:

1*. It is possible that a maximally great being exists. (Premise)

2*. Necessarily, a maximally great being is maximally excellent in every possible world. (Premise)

3*. Necessarily, a maximally excellent being is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. (Premise)

4*. Hence, an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being exists in all possible worlds. (From 1 - 3, S5)

5*. Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being exists. (From 4 - the actual world is a member of the set of all possible worlds)

In short, God's possible existence entails God's actual existence. This means that the possibility premise is the most controversial of the ontological argument. In fact, (2*) and (3*) are virtually uncontroversial, leaving (1*) as the only premise to be viably rejected.

Yet, we can actually reverse Rowe's argument against God and turn it into support for the ontological argument's premise (1*). Consider the following:

1'. To say that God is impossible is to say that God's existence is not possible. (Premise)

2'. If God's existence is impossible, we would most likely know what the reasons are for God to not possibly exist. (Premise)

3'. We do not know what the reasons are. (Premise)

4'. Therefore, it is most likely the case that God's existence is possible. (From 1' - 3')

If at this point the skeptic wishes to reject either (2') or (3'), then the theist is given at least as much justification for rejecting the original (2) and (3) of Rowe's argument. Do we not have enough information yet to conclude that God's existence is possible or impossible? Then why should we expect to have enough information to say that pain and suffering undermine God's existence? The skeptic should be careful to not commit a double standard.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Aesthetic Argument

A simple version:

1. There is the music of Bach.
2. Therefore, God exists.

"You either see that one or you don't," half-jests Peter Kreeft.

A more sophisticated version of the argument will unpackage some of the intuitions many of us feel when connection music to reverence of God. The argument, which for now I will simply designate as *the* Aesthetic argument for God's existence.

Music is beautiful if it exhibits melody on top of repetition.

By analogy, nature is beautiful if it exhibits diversity among repetition.

The parity between the two cases is that there is some intelligent composer/designer who is able to translate their beautiful thought into something tangible. As great as Bach's music is, just think of how much great and more wondrous the entire cosmos is! We can, then, quite naturally infer that the designer of the cosmos is that much greater than Bach. Bach, of course, took his inspiration from this designer - the being we call "God."

I prefer the argument from order, since it's premises and conclusions are so clear and impossible to reject on pain of irrationality. There is obviously order in the world and, depending on your additional presuppositions, God is either order itself, or else the entity that causes order within the cosmos. However, why should we limit our mode of inquiry to what is logically and mathematically airtight? Arguments like the aesthetic argument simply tap into a different realm of inquiry that may be known with just as much certainty, just not in the same dry manner.

It's something to think about, at least.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Carelessness of Language

Have you ever said, "I'm tired," when you're not really tired at all? Maybe you just don't like what you're doing at the moment and instead making this feeling explicit, you water it down with, "I'm tired."

Do these slips have any reflection on a person's rational status? Are we in thinking mode, or is it just an automatic response the way "ouch!" is whenever we stub a toe? Further, are these expressions symptomatic of an underlying moral problem? One should say how he/she feels, and so anything short of this would therefore fall short of a moral imperative.

Considered another way, it may actually be a sign of moral virtue. If you have your friend's feelings in consideration, you will likely "blunt the strike," so to speak. Your desire for his emotional well-being is morally praiseworthy, but do the ends justify the means? Or, is this question entirely misplaced, since your friend's well-being is an end in and of itself?

Ethics is tricky. I think I'll stick to the Golden Rule. That famous guy said it. What was his name? Oh, yeah. Jesus!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Against Materialism

Here's an argument against mind-body materialism that I find persuasive:

1. If Materialism is true, all possible minds are physical brains. (Premise)

2. Abstract objects are necessary concepts of a mind. (Premise)

3. There are possible worlds in which there are no physical brains. (Premise)

4. Therefore, Materialism is false. (From 1 - 3)

I take (1) to be one of the standard interpretations of Materialism, but of course, there is some variance among those who call themselves Materialists. (2) entails conceptualism: both the necessary existence of abstract objects and their conceptual nature. One of the inferences to be drawn from (2) is that a necessary mind exists. After all, abstract objects cannot be grounded in just any mind, since there there are possible worlds in which you and I (contingent minds) do not exist, and yet those same abstract objects are still instantiated. Moreover, there are possible worlds in which nothing contingent exists.

Given (3), conceptualism provides us with a strong defeater for Materialism. Obviously each of the argument's premises has to be defended. This is just an outline.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Circularity Objection Against the MCA

Like any modal argument for theism that uses S5, the modal cosmological argument (MCA) is sometimes alleged to commit the informal fallacy of begging the question. First, here's a refresher of the argument:

1. Every contingent entity possibly has an external cause. (Premise)

2. If the sum total of contingent entities C has an external cause, that cause is a necessary entity. (Premise)

3. C is a contingent entity. (Premise)

4. Hence, a necessary entity possibly causes C. (From 1 - 3)

5. Therefore, a necessary entity exists. (From 4 and S5)

Unless the skeptic is willing to question the truthfulness of S5, or else either of (2) or (3), which in any case would be highly dubious, he must focus his attention on (1). Does (1) beg the question?

It's not entirely clear. (1), on its own, does not entail (5), even in conjunction with S5. (2) and (3) have to be added, and only (2) is plausibly analytical. (3) seems almost indubitable, but that doesn't (or shouldn't) have any effect on one's acceptance/denial of (1). In other words, it is coherent to simultaneously affirm (3) and reject (1).

What makes the circularity objection even more suspect is that the negation of (1) does not result in the negation of (5). Even if it is not possible for every contingent entity to have an external cause, a necessary entity may very well exist. This is peculiar if the MCA's proponent is already assuming the truth of (5) by postulating (1).

Finally, even assuming that (1) entails (5) - which it doesn't - that doesn't undermine the argument. There are often cases in which one statement will entail another, despite their possessing two distinct levels of perspicuity. Take, for example, the proposition, "Socrates is a man." This statement is much more obvious than, "Socrates is a homo bipedal primate." Yet, the former entails the latter. What this illustrates is that some statements can supplement by their clarity even those statements they entail. Why can't this be the case with (1) and (5)?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Arguing for God as the Logos

We observe diverse things coming together in certain kinds of order. These composite entities either have an external cause of that order or they do not. That much is obvious. What is more controversial, but still seemingly obvious to those of us without a strong prejudice against even quasi-religious statements is that these composite entities really do have external causes of their order. I call this statement "quasi-religious" because of its implications.

1. Composite entities have order. (Premise)

2. If a composite entity has order, its order most likely has an external cause. (Premise)

3. The universe as a whole is a composite entity with order. (Premise)

4. Therefore, the universe's order most likely has an external cause. (From 1 - 3)

The external cause - called the "Logos" by the ancient Greeks - of the universe must itself be non-composite, or simple, if we are going to avoid the regress problem. This is already apparent, though, since if a thing such as the Logos is not extended in space, it cannot be composed of any (physical) parts. The non-temporality of the Logos is also indicative of its eternality. And, of course, the Logos must also be very powerful if it is going to cause order in something as vast as the universe.

Obviously, whenever we introduce the notion that the Logos is intelligent, we are going to come across more resistance. However, if there exists an immaterial, eternal, and very powerful entity that causes the order throughout the entire universe, shouldn't atheists concede that something exists that is at the very least God-like? I would even be thrilled to see a retraction of the term "delusion" so often attached to descriptions of theistic belief.

It's also important to keep in mind that arguments like the one above should not be taken in isolation from one another. The argument from order may be combined with, say, the fine-tuning argument as part of a cumulative argument for God's existence.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Metaphysical Realism in the Angelic Doctor

It's not like this was original with Popper...

"[T]o make things actually intelligible precedes the act of understanding them. But there are some things within us which are rendered actually understood in a natural [a priori] way, not as a result of our effort or of the action of our will: such are the first intelligibles."

-St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 3, Part 1, 43:2.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Modal Teleological Argument (MTA)

I'm surprised nobody I'm aware of has attempted to modalize the classic design arguments. I figured I would give it a shot and see what sticks:

1. The appearance of order is possibly explained by design. (Premise)

2. There are necessary truths involved in the appearance of order. (Premise)

3. Nothing contingent can explain a necessary truth. (Premise)

4. A necessary designer possibly explains necessary truths. (From 1 - 3)

5. Therefore, a necessary designer exists. (From 4 and S5)

If this argument is correct, then it's even more of a knockdown argument than the MCA. For now we arrive not only at the conclusion that a necessary, eternal, and enormously powerful entity exists, but its intelligence may also be inferred.

One of the argument's drawbacks include the potential inclusion of theistic activism (does God actually cause necessary truths?). One alternative to this is theistic conceptual realism, which states not that God causes necessary truths (and other abstract objects), but is the ground of them.

It seems, then, that the MTA is a subset of the conceptualist argument.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Necessary Synthetic Truths

Those of us who reject the view that only analytical propositions can be necessary are sometimes challenged to give examples of necessary synthetic truths. It should first be pointed out that one is not required to give any such examples in order to refute the claim that only analytical propositions can be necessary. Given that such a view is self-defeating, we are justified in affirming that there are non-analytical (synthetic) necessary truths. Providing examples of necessary synthetic truths will only add an additional layer to an established fact of metaphysics/epistemology.

In any case, here are a few synthetic truths I take to be necessary:

Metaphyics: Out of nothing comes nothing.

Epistemology: In order for a subject S to have knowledge of some external object E, there must be a causal relationship between S and E.

Ethics: It is wrong to torture children for fun.

Aesthetics: "Hey Jude" is more beautiful than "Pants on the Ground."

The usual objection, to the latter two at least, is that there are instances in which children, "Hey Jude," and "Pants on the Ground" do not even exist, so propositions containing these referents cannot be necessary. However, this conclusion would be too hasty. Even in the absence of these referents, it would still be necessarily true that "Hey Jude" would be more beautiful than "Pants on the Ground" if they existed, etc.

Of course, a relativist will not be persuaded by this point, but that's not my problem. :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Defending the MCA from an Old Criticism

Only propositions are necessary, say Hume and Russell. If God exists, He does not have necessary existence or, more specifically, logically necessary existence. [1] In order for a proposition to be necessary, this view states that only analytical propositions meet the bill, e.g. A=A, either A or ~A, etc.

The above view has a powerful defeater. You will recall that in order for the MCA to work, it is postulated that the sum total of contingent entities C possibly has an external cause. This external cause must be a necessary entity N. Given that N is possible, it follows (in conjunction with S5) that N exists.

In order to reject the MCA, the skeptic has to say that N is not even possible, which entails:

1. Necessarily, every cause is contingent.

Is (1) analytically true? Obviously not. Yet on Hume's hypothesis, (1) should therefore be rejected. Given that the negation of (1) entails that N is possible and therefore actually exists, the Humean is forced to say that N both exists and does not exist. Of course, this is a violation of one of the analytical propositions that Hume does take to be necessary - namely, the law of non-contradiction.

In short, the Humean hypothesis is self-defeating and should not lead the subject to conclude that N is impossible. Moreover, if N is not impossible [2], it follows that N is possible, which is one area where the MCA has its strength.

[1] On this view, God may still have temporally necessary existence.

[2] Other objections will likewise have to be disposed of.

Monday, April 11, 2011

God's Possible Existence and Necessity

I still scratch my head when I hear this objection: "If God possibly exists, then He also possibly does not exist."

The first step in refuting this (sadly) oft-repeated criticism of God's necessity is to explain that the opposite of "possible" is not "possibly not," but "not possible" (impossible).

What the objector is confusing for possibility is contingency. A few modal definitions should suffice to clear the air:

necessity: existence in all possible worlds
contingency: existence in at least one, but not all possible worlds
impossibility: existence in no possible worlds

Obviously, "necessity" entails possibility, whereas the latter does not entail contingency.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rethinking the Necessary Preconditions of Inspiration and Canonicty

1 Maccabees 9:27, "There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people."

The implication drawn from the preceding text is that the book as a whole is not the work of a prophet. For some interpreters, this raises the question: does 1 Maccabees belong in the canon?

First, a distinction ought to be drawn between inspiration and canonicity. Loosely, a book is inspired if it is the infallible word of God. By contrast, a book is canonical if it is recognized as inspired. This distinction, while important, is not vital for the issue at hand, since even the inspiration of 1 Maccabees is contested.

For those who answer that 1 Maccabees is inspired and ought to be included in the canon, it is argued that prophesy, properly understood, is not a necessary condition of inspiration. A prophet is a person who holds a particular office or role, which may or may not include the writing of inspired Scripture.

Assuming that 1 Maccabees 9:27 and similar passages do undermine the book's own inspiration, it seems that too much is proved. Consider Psalm 74:9, "Now we see no signs, we have no prophets, no one who knows how long." The psalm indicates that no prophet is present. But if prophesy is a necessary precondition of inspiration, doesn't this imply that Psalm 74:9 is not an inspired text?

As far as I can tell, we have two choices. We can either reject Psalm 74:9 as inspired or, as I suggest, adopt a different set of presuppositions with respect to inspiration.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Hierarchy of Creation in Genesis 1

Whether one is a theistic evolutionist, a young earth creationist, or anything in between, one can still appreciate the manner in which the Genesis narrative describes God's act of creation.

God is said to have "rested" on the seventh day. As it is commonly known, the number seven represents perfection in Hebrew numerology. What is much easier to overlook is the symbolic [1] nature of the previous six days. Take days one and four, two and five, and three and six:

Day One: God creates light
Day Four: God creates the sun and moon

Day Two: God creates the separation between the sky and seas
Day Five: God creates birds and sea animals/fish

Day Three: God creates land and plants
Day Six: God creates animals, notably humankind

There is a parallel between the first three days and the last three. Each day there is a progression in the hierarchy of creation. The first three days describe the environment in which the latter three dwell. This is especially important for those of us who give Genesis 1:28 a "caretaker" interpretation. The earth has been created for humanity, not the other way around. [2] With each day what God creates is greater and greater, finally reaching its peak in humanity, having been created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). [3]

[1] For those who take a literal interpretation of the six days, I do not mean to imply "non-literal" by the use of "symbolic." Certainly something can be both literal in one sense, and symbolic in another.

[2] Of course, this doesn't give humanity a license to abuse the earth. Rather, we are to care for it in an analogous way to how God cares for us.

[3] The imago dei is a term descriptive of humankind's rationality and personhood.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our causation as an aspect of God's final causation

"The agent tends to make the patient, not only in regard to its act of being, but also in regard to causality. . . . So, the effect does tend to be like the agent, not only in its species, but also in this characteristic of being the cause of others." [1]

Is it enough for God to create and sustain us? A deeper look into our relationship with God strongly suggests that many of the things we do are an analogy or an imperfect reflection of the divine likeness. Given that we have been created in the image of God, there is an inclination within each of us to become more and more like God. One of the ways we do tend toward the divine likeness is in our causing other things to exist.

Which is more splendid: a man who builds a house, or the God who made the man who builds the house? It is only on our knowledge of God, implicit or explicit, that we desire to cause things, which sublimely shows how much we want to be like our Creator.

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Three: Providence, Part 1, translated by Vernon J. Bourke, University of Notre Dame Press edition 1975, ch. 21.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The modal cosmological argument once more

The version of the modal cosmological argument (MCA) that I defend goes like this:

1. Every contingent entity possibly has an external cause. (Premise, W-PSR)

2. If the sum total of contingent entities C has an external cause, that cause is a necessary, eternal, and enormously powerful entity. (Premise)

3. C is a contingent entity. (Premise)

4. Possibly, C has an external cause. (From 1 and 3)

5. Therefore, the external cause of C is a necessary, eternal, and enormously powerful entity. (From 2, 4, and S5)

The argument is logically sound, but are its premises more likely true than their negations? Prima facie, almost nobody questions (1). Assuming it's possible for a brick to pop into existence uncaused out of nothing, it's still reasonable to conclude that the brick could have had an external cause of its existence.

(2) is largely analytical. If there is a cause outside the sum total of C that causes C, that cause must have necessary existence. Otherwise, it too would be contained within C. Moreover, this necessary entity would have to be eternal, since there is no time at which a necessary entity can fail to exist. Finally, the entity in question must also be enormously powerful, since a cause's power is at least as great as its effect. The sheer vastness and order of C warrants this conclusion.

Notice what the skeptic cannot argue. He cannot start by reversing the W-PSR:

1*. Every contingent entity possibly does not have an external cause.

The existence of a necessary, eternal, and enormously powerful entity is consistent with its not having caused what exists contingently. What the skeptic would have to do is begin by saying that a necessary entity possibly does not exist. However, this possibility premise entails the much stronger conclusion that C cannot possibly have an external cause. This brings the original W-PSR back into question. So, the skeptic will have to pick their poison.

At any rate, I could argue that a necessary entity's possible non-existence is contradictory (and I think it is), but for now, it's important to realize that not all contradictions are as immediately obvious as the next. "The Prime Minister is a prime number" is necessarily false, but it's nowhere near as obvious as, "X is ~X."

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Modal Ontological Argument in the tradition of Rene Descartes

With all of the recent modalizations of St. Anselm's ontological argument, I was surprised to see how few attempts have been made to do the same with Descartes' arguments from First Meditations.

In short, Descartes reasons that he has the concept of God in his mind. He then asks, what is the cause of this conception? For example, we have the concept of an apple because we know such things exist. We have the concept of a unicorn, not because they exist, but because we composite different parts (a horse's body, the horn of any number of animals, and the wings of a majestic bird). For Descartes, then, the ability to have a clear and distinct conceptualization of a thing points to that thing's having existence in reality.

Here's how a modal version of the argument might look:

1. If a concept of C is held by person S, then C possibly corresponds to an objective reality. (Premise)

2. The concept of a maximally great being is a concept of S. (Premise)

3. Hence, the concept of a maximally great being possibly corresponds to an objective reality. (From 1 and 2)

4. A maximally great being possibly exists. (3, simplification)

5. A being is maximally great if and only if it is maximally excellent in every possible world. (Premise)

6. A being is maximally excellent if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. (Premise)

7. Hence, an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being exists in all possible worlds. (From 5, 6, and S5)

8. Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being exists. (From 7)

9. Therefore, God exists. (From 8)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Traditional Third Way

I have spent quite a bit of time defending the Modal Third Way. However, I think the traditional argument is compelling, as well. What Maimonides, Thomas, and others have argued is the following:

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

2. Something has always existed. (Premise)

3. There was a past time at which nothing contingent existed. (Premise)

4. Therefore, a necessary entity exists. (From 1 - 3)

Before moving on to a defense of each of the premises, a few words of "necessity" are in order. First, the conclusion is not necessarily to a logically necessary entity. It's not as if "nothing necessary exists" is contradictory in the same vein as "John is a married bachelor." Rather, the argument seeks to establish the existence of some temporally necessary entity, e.g. something indestructible, or incorruptible, if it exists at all. Moreover, as I have said on more than one occasion, a necessary entity must also be eternal and enormously powerful (if not omnipotent). After all, the weaker a thing is, the more inclined it is toward corruptibility.

Now, what about the argument's premises? (1) is obviously true: an existing thing either possibly fails to exist (contingency) or cannot fail to exist (necessity). (2) is based on ex nihilo nihil fit (out of nothing comes nothing). If there were a past time at which nothing exists, then nothing would exist now, which is patently false.

(3) is likely the most controversial premise, but "controversial" is not synonymous with "improbable." Given infinite time, all non-zero probabilities will be actualized at some point. The Scholastics put it like this: given infinite time, all real potentialities will be actualized. After all, infinity is just inexhaustible. In fact, it could even be argued that there are infinitely-many points at which nothing contingent exists. Either way, (3) appears to be in good shape. Yet, if nothing contingent existed at a past time, and something existed at the same time - per premise (2) - it follows that a necessary entity exists.

Therefore, something necessary, eternal, and enormously powerful exists. Whether or not this entity is the Christian God, or the deity of any other religion, is a matter for further inquiry.

Of course, one could always say that the universe's past is finite, and I would agree. However, that does nothing to undermine the Third Way. In fact, it actually gives us another argument for God's existence: the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA).

A Heraclitean Cosmological Argument

The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, held views that are very consonant with what many today hold. He was a commonsense philosopher who is famous for his quote, "you cannot step into the same river twice." Rivers, like all natural things, are in a constant state of flux. However, there is an order to how each of these things change, and the ordering principle (or "Logos") is distinguished from these changing things. As A.H. Armstrong summarizes, "[The] world of change and conflict pictured by Heraclitus is not however a mere chaos. It is governed by an immanent principle of order and measure. . . . [H]is name for the ruling principle is the Logos." [1]

There are several ways of formalizing Heraclitus' thought into a cosmological argument. I wish to present two of these ways:

I. The Heraclitean Cosmological Argument (HCA) based on correspondence

1. Nature is in constant flux. (Premise)

2. There is order throughout nature. (Premise)

3. The order throughout nature is either in flux or not in flux. (Definition)

4. The order throughout nature is not in flux. (Premise)

5. Every fact of concrete reality corresponds to some existing concrete reality. (Premise, correspondence principle)

6. Hence, the fact of order in nature corresponds to some existing concrete reality. (From 2 and 5)

7. The corresponding concrete reality is itself either in flux or not in flux. (Definition)

8. It cannot be in flux. (From 4 and 5)

9. Therefore, an immutable ordering principle (Logos) exists. (From 6 - 8)

10. Therefore, the Logos is distinct from nature. (From 1 and 9)

The Logos that Heraclitus concludes to is immutable, eternal (for something can only cease to exist at some time if it changes), and enormously powerful, given that it is the cause of change throughout nature. More precisely, though, his thought is that the Logos is part of nature, but distinct from those aspects of nature that are in flux.

II. The HCA based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR)

With some modifications of Leibniz' argument, we can reformulate the syllogism to be Heraclitean-friendly:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. (Premise, PSR)

2. If the order of nature has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is the Logos. (Premise)

3. The order of nature exists. (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the order of nature is explained by the Logos. (From 2 and 4)

What I like about this version is the awkwardness that results in rejecting the existence of the Logos. If the skeptic takes the view that the order of the universe has an external cause, then we have something supernatural. If, however, the other horn of the dilemma is preferred, then the order of the universe has necessary existence. This entails that something is immutable, eternal, and enormously powerful, anyway.

This means that either (1) and/or (3) must be rejected. That's not an issue for me, though.

[1] A.H. Armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1989 edition, p. 10.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mortimer Adler's Cosmological Argument

Mortimer Adler came to the Christian faith fairly late in life, and to the Catholic faith in particular, even later. Nevertheless, even before his conversion and throughout his professional career, Adler made no apologies for defending his belief in God (or a Supreme Being of some kind) based on the existence of a contingent universe. His own argument goes roughly like this:

1. If X is an effect in need of a sustaining cause Y, then the existence of X implies the existence and action of Y. (Premise)

2. The universe is an existing effect. (Premise)

3. The universe is radically contingent. (Premise)

4. Whatever is radically contingent requires a sustaining cause. (Premise, PSR)

5. Therefore, the universe has a sustaining cause. (From 1 - 4)

(1) and (2) are indubitably true. (3) seems fairly benign upon consideration. Adler distinguishes between radical contingency and superficial contingency, the former of which entails the possibility of one or more alternative states of affairs. For example, the universe as it presently exists could logically exist differently. The laws of nature could be different; my desk could be yellow instead of black; the Steelers could have beaten the Packers in the Super Bowl; and so forth.

(4) is Adler's interpretation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). Instead of going into a defense of the PSR, it is worth considering a common objection. It is often alleged that these arguments commit a composition fallacy. Just because each part of a mountain is small, that doesn't mean the mountain as a whole is small. Likewise, it is thought, even though each part of the universe has a sustaining cause, that doesn't mean the universe as a whole has a sustaining cause.

The disparity in this analogy is evident whenever we try to apply causal explanations. Would it be wise to suggest that even though each part of the mountain has a causal explanation, the mountain as a whole does not? Surely the mountain itself has been formed by geological processes, etc. What this illustrates is that while there are cases in which the whole is not like its parts, there are other cases in which the whole is like its parts.

Adler then reasons that the sustaining cause of the universe must have the usual transcendent attributes of timelessness, immutability, and immateriality, in addition to enormous power.

It turns out that Adler's argument is pretty close to Leibniz's own formulation of the cosmological argument.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Indispensability Argument for the Existence of Abstract Objects

Numbers, sets, laws of logic, and so forth are all abstract objects. What makes something abstract as opposed to concrete is known with some imprecision, but it is generally agreed that one aspect that distinguishes abstract objects from concrete objects is that the former do not stand in causal relations. Now, should we admit that such objects actually exist? Here is one reason to think they do.

Our scientific knowledge of the world can be reduced in some cases to basic "laws," axioms composed of mathematical formulas. For instance, Newton's law of universal gravitation states that: F = G (m1 * m2 / r^2). The distance between the masses is "r" and the axiom requires that r be squared - hence, r^2. The mathematical function of squaring the distance is therefore an indispensable aspect of Newton's law. The same indispensability can be shown for all kinds of abstract objects. This leads us to the following argument:

1. Whatever is indispensable possesses the attribute of indispensability. (Definition)

2. Abstract objects are indispensable. (Premise)

3. Hence, abstract objects possess the attribute of indispensability. (From 1 and 2)

4. Non-existent objects cannot possess any attribute. (Premise)

5. Therefore, abstract objects exist. (From 3 and 4, plus negation)

All that's left is to defend the certainly uncontroversial premise (4). Something non-existent cannot possess any attributes, since attributes are themselves existing qualities. Therefore, at least some abstract objects, at any rate, exist.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Modal First Way

Inspired by Maydole's Modal Third Way, as well as Gale and Pruss' Modal Cosmological Argument, I think there is promise in constructing a modalized version of the argument from motion - the Modal First Way (MFW). Let's start with three modal axioms:

A1. Everything in motion is possibly moved by another.

A2. The regress of movers is possibly finite.

A3. Whatever is contingent is possibly moved by another.

Motion, or change, is the transition of a potentiality to an actuality, as in the case of an acorn becoming an oak tree. Now, for a reductio ad absurdum:

P1. Assume that a First Mover does not possibly exist.

P2. If a First Mover does not possibly exist, then it is either necessarily the case that a) something in motion cannot be moved by another; or b) the regress of movers is infinite. (From 1, A1 and A2)

P3. It is not necessarily the case that (2a) or (2b). (From A1 and A2)

P4. Hence, it is possible that a First Mover exists. (From 1 - 3)

P5. Whatever is possible is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

P6. Whatever is contingent is possibly moved by another. (From A3)

P7. A First Mover cannot be moved by another. (Premise)

P8. Therefore, a First Mover necessarily exists. (From 1 - 7)

Of course, one may imagine a possible world in which nothing is in motion. However, this wouldn't undermine our conclusion that a First Mover necessarily exists. For, without motion the First Mover would just exist a se and without any effect, much like George Washington would still be the same person had he not been the first president of the United States.

Let's sum up the argument in simpler terms:

1. Pure Act possibly exists. (Premise)

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

3. Whatever is contingent is possibly actualized. (Premise)

4. Hence, Pure Act is necessary. (From 1 - 3)

5. Therefore, Pure Act exists. (From 4)

Then, in closing the gap between Pure Act and God:

6. Pure Act is either omnipotent or non-omnipotent. (Definition)

7. Whatever is non-omnipotent exemplifies the potentiality to grow in power. (Premise)

8. Pure Act does not exemplify any potentiality. (Definition)

9. Therefore, Pure Act is omnipotent. (From 6 - 8)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mind Versus Matter

Which is more fundamental in explaining the orderly processes of nature: mind or matter? How one answers this question will inevitably determine whether one adopts a theistic or atheistic worldview. I have to wonder why some of the New Atheists continue to refer to belief in God as a delusion or mental disorder when the "mind" answer isn't obviously false or a priori less likely true than "matter." Maybe they would dispute this, but it's hard to understand how there could be a reasonable a priori reason for preferring the "matter" answer. In any case, I wish to offer a couple analogies in support of a theistic worldview.

Imagine you win the lottery. You might think that you were lucky. However, suppose now that you win the lottery twice in a row, or a hundred or a thousand times in a row, etc. At this point, the chance hypothesis would become quite unreasonable. As Aristotle so aptly explained, "when a certain result is achieved either invariably or normally, it is no incidental or merely lucky coincidence; and in the processes of nature each result is achieved if not invariably at least normally, provided nothing hinders."

Lest anyone think this is an "outdated" assumption, here is what contemporary British physicist, Paul Davies, has to say, "All science is founded on the assumption that the physical world is ordered. The most powerful expression of this order is found in the laws of physics. Nobody knows where these laws come from, nor why they apparently operate universally and unfailingly, but we see them at work all around us: in the rhythm of night and day, the pattern of planetary motions, the regular ticking of a clock."

Atheistic philosopher, Michael Martin, agree: "Consider science. It presupposes the uniformity of nature: that natural laws govern the world and that there are no violations of such laws."

Now, whether there are any violations of natural laws (e.g. in the case of miracles) is another issue. The point is that nature exhibits regularity for the most part, as expressed, for example, in the laws of gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces.

Yet, how could matter be the ultimate explanation of this? Without the direction of some intelligence, the same person would not win the lottery over and over again. Another analogy is this. Which computer would you trust to be reliable: one designed by an intelligence or one put together without the direction of any intelligence whatsoever? I hope you would choose the former.

This second analogy is used in support of the so-called "argument from reason," a la Lewis and Reppert. Briefly, if our cognitive faculties were formed by non-rational processes, why should we trust that our cognitive faculties are rational, e.g. why trust that our cognitive faculties generally produce true beliefs? If the skeptic retorts that they don't, then they are engaging in a self-contradiction. For, the conclusion that our cognitive faculties do not generally produce true beliefs is itself produced by our cognitive faculties, undermining the skeptic's own position. Of course, if our cognitive faculties are generally reliable, then they are most plausibly formed by rational processes, which implies an intelligent designer of sorts.

These are very simple arguments, but they have withstood centuries of philosophical critique. The fact of the matter is that the believer is capable of showing the non-believer that God exists based on just two starting points:

1. One cannot be rational while rejecting rational inquiry.

2. One cannot be rational while undermining the necessary preconditions of rational inquiry.

Order, regularity, and reliable cognitive faculties are all necessary preconditions of rational inquiry. What is more, each of these aspects of rational inquiry are best explained by the design hypothesis.

Now, the "who made God?" question of Dawkins, etc., can be easily disposed of. Here are the design criteria of the argument from laws of nature, for example: everything that a) lacks intelligence, and b) exhibits regularity, is designed.

Obviously, God does not lack intelligence, so He is not in need of being designed. When you type words on a keyboard, your own intelligence suffices to guide that process. The reason you and I are designed is because we have not always existed, and hence we didn't always have intelligence.

In combination with the cosmological argument (e.g. the Modal Third Way), these various teleological arguments provide the believer with a rational justification for theism.

[1] Aristotle, Natural Science, Book 2, Chap. 8, translated and edited by Philip Wheelwright, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., pp. 40-41.

[2] Paul Davies,

[3] Michael Martin,

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Apophatic Theology and the Meaningfulness of Religious Language

I was recently asked by a skeptic to explain the meaning of "necessary" in the proposition, "God has necessary existence." He held to a non-cognitivist position on the matter, claiming that it is meaningless to assert that anything has necessary existence. This is a very important distinction: he was not merely claiming that nothing has necessary existence, but that the very notion of necessary existence is literally without meaning.

What I pointed out is likely already apparent to most - namely, that if it is meaningful to speak of contingent existence, then it is equally meaningful to speak of necessary (non-contingent) existence. Nobody in their right mind would doubt that there are things that exist, but can also fail to exist. [1] Trees, planets, human beings, etc., are all contingent beings. If "contingent" is meaningful, then so is its negation, just as not-blue is the meaningful negation of blue.

This reminds me of how essential a sound grasp of apophatic (negative) theology is for the believer. We know the nature of God by knowing what He is not, as opposed to observing God in the same way we observe contingent things. God is said to be necessary because He is non-contingent, timeless because He is non-temporal, immutable because He is not subject to change, and so forth.

On the other hand, this is what makes the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation so scandalous to the non-Christian. How could the immutable God take on a mutable human nature? We could delve into the dual-nature of Christ, but for now I wish only to stress the need for the believer to answer the non-cognitivist's contention that religious language is meaningless. It's easy to answer, but unfortunately non-cognitivism has taken on what I consider to be a last resort in order to resist belief in God.

[1] It's funny to note that a denial of this would require that everything has necessary existence, which is what the non-cognitivist denies is even meaningful to begin with.