Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Revised Version of the Third Way

Thanks to my friend, Walter, I've been able to alter the Third Way in such a manner that atheists might be more inclined to accept it.  Here's the argument:

1. Something cannot come from nothing. (Premise)

2. Something presently exists. (Premise)

3. Hence, there was never a past time at which nothing existed. (From 1 and 2)

4. Either everything that exists is destructible, or else there exists at least one indestructible entity. (Premise)

5. The past is infinite. (Assumption)

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

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

8. Hence, there was a time in the past at which nothing destructible existed. (From 5 - 7)

9. Therefore, at least one indestructible entity exists. (From 3, 4 and 8)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Progress on the Book

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently writing a book entitled, Faith and Philosophy.  I've revised to outline to look like this:

Section One: Arguments in Support of God's Existence

Chapter One: The Relationship Between Faith and Reason (five pages)

Chapter Two: The Cosmological Argument (ten pages)

Chapter Three: The Teleological Argument (ten pages)

Chapter Four: The Conceptualist Argument (five pages)

Chapter Five: The Ontological Argument (five pages)

Chapter Six: The Argument from Desire (five pages)

Section Two: Answering Atheism

Chapter Seven: Miscellaneous Arguments (five pages)

Chapter Eight: The Argument from Divine Hiddenness (five pages)

Chapter Nine: The Argument from Suffering (ten pages)

Section Three: Conclusion

Chapter Ten: A Cumulative Case for God's Existence (five pages)

Total pages: sixty-five

As I've said before, this is just an introductory text, which is why the chapters are so concise.  With that being said, I feel I'm doing an adequate job presenting the arguments and defending them from the most common objections.

As of today, chapters two, three and four are complete.  In the next two days, I'll be tackling the ontological argument and the argument from desire.  Afterwards, I'll jump back to chapter one before critiquing the atheistic arguments.  My hope is to write one chapter every day.  Proof-reading and some polishing of the arguments will follow, but I hope to get this published relatively soon. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Leibniz: With a Little Help From My Friends (Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas)

The Leibnizian cosmological argument (LCA) goes like this:

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

2. If the sum total of contingent entities C has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is a necessary, eternal and very powerful entity N. (Premise)

3. C exists. (Premise)

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

5. Therefore, the explanation of C is N. (From 2 and 4)

Hume objects that once each member of a regress of causes is accounted for, then it is superfluous to ask for an explanation of the regress itself.  Maybe there is an infinite regress of contingent entities, each causing the next.  Thus, he rejects premise (2).*

Now, the traditional proponent of the LCA will point out, quite rightly I think, that the infinite regress (if one is even possible) itself is contingent.  There didn't have to be any contingently existing entities, and so there did not have to be an infinite regress of contingent causes.  Hume's proposed solution doesn't result in an explanation for the infinite regress.

Nevertheless, there's an additional argument at the disposal of Leibniz, and I'm surprised I never see it brought up in defenses of the LCA.  What I'm talking about is the one-to-one correspondence between potentialities and an infinite regress.  Thomas Aquinas sums it up quite nicely in the Third Way:

6. Something cannot come from nothing. (Premise)

7. Something presently exists. (Premise)

8. Either everything that exists is contingent, or else there exists at least one necessary entity. (Premise)

9. The past is infinite. (Assumption)

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

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

12. Hence, there was a time in the past at which nothing contingent existed. (From 9 - 11)

13. Therefore, at least one necessary entity exists. (Implied by 6, 8 and 12)

In short, since there was a time in the past at which nothing contingent existed, it is either the case that something necessary existed at that time (and therefore must exist at all times) or that nothing at all existed.  The problem with the latter is premise (6) of the argument.  If there were ever a past time at which nothing existed, then nothing would exist even now, for being cannot arise from non-being.  Given that something presently exists, it follows that at least one necessary entity exists.

As a result, Hume's objection is further weakened.  There are good reasons to believe the infinite regress he speaks of is itself contingent, and secondly, even if it isn't contingent, there would still have been a past time at which nothing contingent existed.  Either way, there's no escaping the conclusion that N exists.

*Hume sort of rejects (1) as well, but also accepts it as an indispensable element of human thought.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

More on Ontological Nihilism

This argument occurred to me today as I was thinking about my previous post.  A lot of us are familiar with the S5 axiom stated as, "if possibly necessarily p, then necessarily p."  However, another aspect of S5 is this: "if possibly p, then necessarily possibly p."

Let's take w1, then, where purportedly nothing at all exists, not even possibility.  Considering some other possible world w2, where at least one concrete object X exists, it follows that: if possibly X, then necessarily possibly X.  Now, since whatever is necessary applies to all possible worlds, the possibility of X must obtain in w1.  Taking this one step further, we can apply a rather benign causal principle to the argument: if possibly X in w1, then necessarily something concrete exists in w1.  This is because nothing concrete can come into being apart from some other concrete being.  If X doesn't come into being, then X exists by itself in w1.  Thus the feasibility of ontological nihilism is defeated.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Minimal Ontological Argument Without S5

1. Necessarily, everything that exists is either contingent or necessary. (Definition)

2. Necessarily, something exists. (Premise)

3. Possibly, nothing contingent exists. (Premise)

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

Reductio ad absurdum:

5. Nothing necessary does exists. (Assumption)

6. Necessarily, if nothing necessary exists, then it's possible for nothing to exist. (From 1 and 3)

7.  (6) contradicts (2).

8. Therefore, (5) is false and something necessary exists.


The argument is logically airtight.  If the premises are true, then there's no escaping the conclusion.  Premises (1) and (3) are either true by definition or true on any realistic account of ontology.  The key premise is (2).  Is it necessarily the case that something exists?  One could certainly defend cosmological arguments and the PSR, but I'd like to see another type of argument.  Can it be shown that "possibly, nothing exists" (possibility of ontological nihilism) is contradictory or absurd?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Argument from Gradation

As a self-described Aristotelian-Thomist, I admit that the argument from gradation (the "Fourth Way") gives me the most difficulty.  I don't understand the manner in which Thomas derives his conclusion in the Summa Theologica.  However, the Summa Contra Gentiles has made the proof much easier for me to understand, even though I still have questions about it.  Here's how I would roughly summarize it:

1. A flaw can only be known if there is a standard of supremacy. (Premise)

2. There are flaws in one's perception of truth. (Premise)

3. Therefore, there exists a Supreme Truth. (From 1 and 2)

In support of (1), I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis's famous analogy: one cannot know a line is crooked without having some idea of what a straight line looks like.

Premise (2) should be obvious to anyone who doesn't claim omniscience.  Based on these two premises, (3) necessarily follows.  However, what's the significance of stating there exists a Supreme Truth?  As far as I can tell, propositional truth is an abstract object, but no classical theist equates God with a mere abstraction.

One solution to this problem is to postulate that abstract objects, such as truth, exist as mental concepts, as opposed to mind-independent realities (the latter of which Plato held, whereas St. Augustine postulated the former).  If conceptualism is true, then the Supreme Truth, which includes necessary and contingent truths, would have to be the concept of a necessary and omniscient mind, e.g. God.