bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part #27: The Universe and Time

I am starting to think about the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Argument #6 in Peter Kreeft’s case for God, from Chapter 3 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA).  This is the final argument that we need to consider in Kreeft’s case for God.
This is not the first time I have examined this argument.  When I was an undergraduate student of philosophy, my plan was to apply to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and to study philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics with Dr. William Craig.  I visited the campus one summer while on a road trip heading for the east coast.  I was hoping to meet Craig in person, but he was away at the time.  I did visit the campus bookstore and I picked up a copy of Craig’s popular presentation of the Kalam cosmological argument: The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe.  So, I have been aware of this argument since about 1982.
One major problem with this argument is that it is based on the claim that time does not stretch backwards for an infinite number of years, and thus time has a beginning.  The idea is that God is OUTSIDE of time, and thus God would be able to cause both time and the universe to begin to exist.  But this makes no sense, because the idea of a person existing OUTSIDE of time makes no sense, and the idea of a person creating something OUTSIDE of time makes even less sense.  The idea that “X caused Y to occur OUTSIDE of time” is an incoherent idea, at least that is my view on this issue.
Before we go any further on this interesting philosophical question about the relationship of time to persons, actions of persons, and cause-and-effect, I think we should explore the various logical possibilities about the relationship of time and the universe.
LOGICAL POSSIBILITIES CONCERNING THE UNIVERSE
The Kalam Cosmological Argument is based on this premise:

2. The universe began to exist.  (HCA, p.58)

This contrasts with the opposite possibility:

It is NOT the case that the universe began to exist.

Given that the universe does exist now, this opposite possibility can be narrowed to this claim:

The universe has existed forever.

There are also different possibilities concerning the END of the universe:

The universe will come to an end.

OR:

The universe will continue to exist forever.

These various possibilities could occur in four different combinations, which can be summarized in a truth table (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
UB = The universe began to exist.
UE = The universe will come to an end.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
LOGICAL POSSIBILITIES CONCERNING TIME
The Kalam Cosmological Argument takes seriously the following claim:

Time began to exist.

This claim contrasts with the opposite view:

It is NOT the case that time began to exist.

Since time clearly exists now, we can narrow this opposite view to this claim:

Time has existed forever.

If time can begin to exist, then there is no obvious reason why time could not cease to exist as well:

Time will come to an end.

And we must acknowledge the opposite and more common view:

Time will continue to exist forever.

So, the logical possibilities concerning time appear to parallel the logical possibilities concerning the universe (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
TB = Time began to exist.
TE = Time will come to an end.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
LOGICAL POSSIBILITIES CONCERNING TIME AND THE UNIVERSE
In theory, we can combine the four different possibilities about time with the four different possibilities about the universe, and that will result in sixteen different possible combinations of those possibilities.  Many of these combinations, however, don’t make any sense; they are incoherent because they involve a logical contradiction.
But first we need to have the baseline of sixteen possible combinations, and next we can eliminate the ones that imply a contradiction (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):

 https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Time-and-Universe-Possibilities.jpg
 
IF TIME HAD NO BEGINNING AND HAS NO END
The last four combinations in the above chart are concerned with possibilities where time has existed forever and will continue to exist forever.  In those scenarios, all four possibilities concerning the universe would be logically compatible with the character of time, so there are no incoherent scenarios among the last four combinations.  Specifically the combinations XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI are all logically possible scenarios.
 
IF TIME HAD A BEGINNING AND ALSO HAS AN END 
The first four combinations in the above chart are concerned with possibilities where time began to exist and will also come to an end. All but one of these combinations is incoherent, meaning all but one contains a logical contradiction. Take combination III for example.  In that combination, the universe has existed forever, but time began to exist.  This combination logically implies the following claim:
The universe was in existence one billion years before time began to exist.
This implication is clearly incoherent, because it is logically impossible for one billion years to elapse while time does not exist.  In order for just one year, or even one second, to elapse, time must exist.  Thus, combination III logically implies a statement that is clearly incoherent, so combination III is itself an incoherent statement: combination III is a logically impossible state of affairs.
A similar line of reasoning can be used to show that combinations II and IV are also incoherent and logically impossible.  Of the first four combinations in the above chart, only combination I is logically possible.  There is no contradiction in the idea that both time and the universe began to exist and that both time and the universe will come to an end.  So, of the first four combinations, the following are logically impossible scenarios: II, III, and IV.
 
IF TIME HAD A BEGINNING BUT HAS NO END
The second set of four combinations are concerned with the possibilities where time begins but will never end.  Two of these combinations are logically possible, and two of these combinations are incoherent and thus logically impossible.  The problem comes in with combinations where the universe has no beginning, since in all of these four combinations time has a beginning.
This is like the problem with combination III, discussed above.  If the universe has existed forever, but time had a beginning, then that logically implies this statement:
The universe was in existence one billion years before time began to exist.
But this statement is incoherent, so any combination that logically implies this statement is also incoherent and logically impossible.  Thus, combinations VII and VIII are logically impossible scenarios.  The other two combinations (V and VI) are logically possible.
 
IF TIME HAD NO BEGINNING BUT HAS AN END
The third set of four combinations all concern scenarios where time has existed forever but will one day come to an end.  As with the previous set of four combinations, two of these combinations are logically possible, and two of them are incoherent and thus logically impossible.  The problem comes in with combinations where the universe has no end.  If time comes to an end but the universe continues to exist forever, then this logically implies the following statement:
The universe will still exist one billion years after time comes to an end.
But this statement is clearly incoherent.  It is logically impossible for just one year, or even one second, to elapse when time no longer exists.  In order for a year to pass, time must exist.  So, any combination that logically implies the above statement is incoherent and is logically impossible.  Combinations X and XII logically imply the above statement, so those combinations are logically impossible. The other two combinations (IX and XI) don’t have this problem and they are logically possible scenarios.
 
CONCLUSIONS
Seven out of the sixteen combinations are logically impossible:  II, III, IV, VII, VIII, X, and XII.
Nine out of the sixteen combinations are logically possible:  I, V, VI, IX, XI, XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI.
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CORRECTION (6/29/18):
==================
The seven combinations that I claimed to be logically impossible can be SHOWN to be logically impossible, as I have indicated.
However, I have NOT shown the nine other combinations to be logically possible.  I have only shown that those combinations don’t have the same sort of logical contradiction that is found in the seven logically impossible combinations.
As far as I can tell, there is no logical contradiction in the nine combinations between the characterization of time and the characterization of the universe (in each combination).  However, there could be a logical contradiction internal to either the characterization of time or to the characterization of the universe in some of those nine combinations.
In fact, the philosophical arguments in the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the claim that the universe began to exist assert that NOTHING can have existed forever; not time, not the universe, and not even God.  Those philosophical arguments assert that there is a logical contradiction involved in the statement that the universe has existed forever, as well as in the statement that time has existed forever. 
A defender of the Kalam Cosmological Argument would say that combinations IX, XI, XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI are incoherent, and thus are logically impossible combinations, because they assert either that time has existed forever or that the universe has existed forever.

bookmark_borderLetter to Peter Kreeft

Dear Dr. Peter Kreeft,
I have recently been studying your Argument #7, the Argument from Contingency:
http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#7
In the second premise, you provide a definition of “the universe”:

2. The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.

Although I appreciate the attempt to clarify the meaning of this phrase, the definition itself seems unclear to me, and I am hoping that you can provide some clarification of the definition, so that I will understand what you mean by the phrase “the universe”.
First, it seems to me that there needs to be a reference here to time. Your example of something that needs a cause of existence is that of a person, and in that example you focus in on the cause of a person’s existence right now:
…you know that right now, as you read this book, you are dependent for your existence on beings outside you. Not your parents or grandparents. They may no longer be alive, but you exist now.
This suggests that premise (2) is also talking about the existence of “the universe” right now. I take it that it is an important feature of the Argument from Contingency that it does NOT deny the possibility of an infinite regress of cause-and-effect backwards in time. It leaves open this possibility, but instead denies an infinite regress of current causes of existence.
In commenting on this argument, you confirm my interpretation that this argument is based upon the premise that “the universe” exists right now:
But the proofs have given us some real knowledge as well: knowledge that the universe is created; knowledge that right now it is kept in being by a cause unbounded by any material limit, that transcends the kind of being we humans directly know.
Although you are talking about multiple “proofs”, it seems clear to me that it is the Argument from Contingency, among the first six proofs, that has the potential to provide “knowledge that right now it [the universe] is kept in being by a cause unbounded by any material limit…”.
So, I take it that premise (2) should be understood as referring to a particular moment of time:

2a. The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists right now.

But when we specify a particular moment of time, the definitional phrase “the collection of beings in space and time” becomes ambiguous between two different meanings:

2b. The universe—the collection of every being that has ever existed in space and time—exists right now.

2c. The universe—the collection of currently existing beings in space and time—exists right now.

This ambiguity in the second premise of the Argument from Contingency appears to constitute a fallacy of equivocation, because on the first interpretation (2b) the premise is clearly false, but on the second interpretation (2c), the definition of “the universe” is clearly mistaken or misleading, which results in a problem later in the argument:

4. What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

If the expression “the universe” is talking ONLY about things or beings that currently exist, then the inference that what it takes for “the universe” to exist “cannot exist within the universe” ONLY implies that what it takes for “the universe” to exist cannot be one of the things that exists in space and time RIGHT NOW.  But there have been many physical objects (“beings in space and time”) that have existed in space and time in the past that no longer exist RIGHT NOW. Those objects are not within “the universe” as this expression is defined in premise (2c), but they were, nevertheless, “beings in space and time”.
So, my question is this:
Does the expression “the universe” in this argument mean, “the collection of every being that has ever existed in space and time” or does it mean, “the collection of currently existing beings in space and time”?
Or is there some other interpretation of the expression “the universe” that you would propose?
Sincerely,
Bradley Bowen
=============================
RESPONSE FROM PETER KREEFT  (06/25/18):
=============================
BB:
Although that chapter and this proof was largely the work of Fr. Tacelli, I will answer your question about it.  Obviously, 2c rather than 2b is what “the universe” means in this argument.  So the argument as it stands does not exclude infinite temporal regress into the past.  That possibility has been refuted, not by this argument, but by Big Bang cosmology.  And (here is the tricky part) if time is relative to matter and if all matter had a beginning, then so did time.  Thus there is only finite regress in time.  I do not think this radically changes the essential argument, though.  But it at least apparently requires the cause of the universe to be not a being in time, since the part cannot cause the whole.  Thus the God proved by the combination of Aquinas’ contingency argument and modern Big Bang cosmology is a being that is not determined by or part of matter, or time, or space.  And this applies even if our universe is only one of many in a “multiverse,” since the same logic must apply to whatever whole this universe might be a part of, even if that whole does not necessarily have the same kind of matter, time, or space as our universe does.  And Christianity suggests such a possibility in positing a universe of pure spirits, or angels, who are not in chronological time but spiritual time.  They too need a cause for their existence, however their “time” relates to their existence.
PK
============================
REPLY TO PETER KREEFT (6/25/18):
=============================
Dear Dr. Kreeft,
Thank you for taking the time to answer my question about the definition of “the universe” in the second premise of the Argument from Contingency.   That eliminates one ambiguity in the definition, which in my view reduces the number of possible interpretations of that phrase from sixteen down to just eight.
There is another ambiguity in the definition of “the universe” that I am hoping you can help me to eliminate; the phrase “in space and time” has at least two different meanings.
In theory, there are four different kinds of things or beings:

I. In space and in time

II. In space but not in time

III. Not in space but in time

IV. Not in space and not in time

 The phrase “in space and time” could be interpreted in two different ways:

  1. BOTH in space AND in time
  2. EITHER in space OR in time  [inclusive “or”]

 
When “the universe” is defined in the Argument from Contingency as “the collection of beings in space and time”, does the phrase “in space and time” have meaning #1 or meaning #2?
Sincerely,
Bradley Bowen
==========================
RESPONSE FROM PETER KREEFT (6/26/18):
=========================
BB:
Good point, since acts of thinking and willing are in time but not in space, though for us they are dependent on things in space, material things like brains and nervous systems.  In one sense these acts are not part of the universe, or nature, but are supernatural.  In another sense, they are.  Angels make up still another class: created, finite spirits, not the Creator, but not in or dependent on matter or space or the time (kronos) that is relative to matter and space, but only in another kind of time, spiritual time (kronos).  Thus we have a complex hierarchy:  (1) God, (2) angels, (3) human spiritual souls that are dependent on matter, and (4) matter, which itself is hierarchical (animals, plants, minerals).  The contingency argument is about (1) vs. everything else, not about the divisions of “everything else,” so it works best on a metaphysical level of act and potency rather than on a cosmological level of matter and mind.
PK
============================
REPLY TO PETER KREEFT (6/28/18):
=============================
Dear Dr. Kreeft,
Thank you for again taking the time to respond to my question about the definition of “the universe” found in the Argument from Contingency.
You appear to agree that something can be “in time but not space”, so you see the ambiguity in the phrase “in space and time”.
But I’m still not clear which of the two meanings of this phrase was intended (or which is the best interpretation):

  1. BOTH in space AND in time
  2. EITHER in space OR in time  [inclusive “or”]

How do you interpret the phrase “in space and time” in this context?
Sincerely,
Bradley Bowen
=====================
RESPONSE FROM PETER KREEFT (6/29/18):
=====================
BB:
If “the universe” means the material universe, then 1.  If it means all of creation, including angels, it means 2.
PK
============================
REPLY TO PETER KREEFT (6/30/18):
=============================
Dear Dr. Kreeft,
You have graciously answered two of my questions about the definition of the phrase “the universe” found in premise (2) of the Argument from Contingency.  I have saved what might well be the most challenging question about the definition for last:
What does “beings” mean?
The definition of “the universe” that is given in premise (2) is as follows:
…the collection of beings in space and time…
 The general principle stated in premise (1) of the Argument from Contingency applies to whatever can be said to be “something” that exists.  So, in order for that principle to apply to a “part of the universe”, the part of the universe must be “something”  that exists.  This raises questions about the relationship between the concept “X is something” and “X is a  being”:

  • If X is something, then X is a being.  (True or False?)
  • If X is a being, then X is something.  (True or False?)

My intuition is that time is something, but that time is NOT a being.
My intuition is that space is something, but that space is NOT a being.
My intuition is that a law of physics is something, but that a law of physics is NOT a being.
These are, however, my linguistic intuitions, and what is important here is not what is the “correct” use of these words, but rather what is the intended meaning of these words in this particular context.
The context appears to be, in part, Thomistic philosophy, and you are more familiar with Thomistic philosophy than I am, so you might have a very clear and specific understanding of the words “something” and “being” in the context of the Argument from Contingency.
Thank you again for your help clarifying the meaning of the definition of “the universe” in this interesting argument.
Sincerely,
Bradley Bowen
=====================
RESPONSE FROM PETER KREEFT (7/1/18):
=====================
BB:
Aristotle gave the best and most commonsensical answer to your question.
PK
 

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for God – Part 26: The Unclarity of Argument #7

WHERE WE ARE AT
There are only two more arguments in Kreeft’s case that we need to evaluate:  Argument #7 (the Argument from Contingency) and Argument #6 (the Kalam Cosmological Argument).  In Part 24, I did an initial analysis of Argument #7, and I pointed out some significant problems with that argument, based only on the conclusion of the argument.
At best, the argument shows the existence of a bodiless being (i.e. a bodiless thing, not necessarily a person) that is the cause of the current existence of the universe. Furthermore, the conclusion of Argument #7 asserts that the cause of the current existence of the universe is OUTSIDE OF TIME, which means that this being is absolutely UNCHANGING, which means it cannot be the creator of the universe,  which means it cannot be God.  Thus, even if Argument #7 was a sound argument, it would prove the existence of a being that was NOT God.
 
ARGUMENT #7: THE ARGUMENT FROM CONTINGENCY

1c. IF something exists at time t1, THEN: if that thing depends on something else for its existence at time t1, then there must exist something else at time t1 that  is what it takes for that thing to exist at time t1.

2a. The universe–the collection of beings in space and time–exists at time t1.

A. The universe–the collection of beings in space and time–depends on something else for its existence at time t1.

THEREFORE:

3c. There must exist something else at time t1 that is what it takes for the universe to exist at time t1.

4a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

THEREFORE:

5a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 must exist at time t1 and must transcend both space and time.

THEREFORE:

6. There is EXACTLY ONE being that is the cause of the current existence of the universe, and this being exists right now and is OUTSIDE of both space and time, and this being is NOT finite or material.

 
THE LOGICAL STRUCTURE OF ARGUMENT #7
Click on the image below for a clearer view of the argument diagram:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
THE BASIC PROBLEM WITH ARGUMENT #7
Usually it only takes ten or fifteen minutes for me to examine a “proof” of the existence of God in order to find two or three major problems with the argument.  Often there are one or two premises that are false or dubious.  Often there are one or two inferences that are logically invalid.  I have previously pointed out some serious deficiencies with Argument #7, but I have been struggling for about three or four weeks trying to identify one or two specific objections that would clearly show this argument to be unsound.  A couple of days ago I realized the reason why I was struggling so much with this argument, why it was taking so long to evaluate it.  In short, the argument is so unclear and ambiguous that there are at least 33 million different possible interpretations of this argument.
==================
EXPONENTIAL INCREASE IN UNCLARITY
Unclear words and phrases usually allow for two or more interpretations (ambiguity).  Every instance of an ambiguous word or phrase can double or triple (or even quadruple) the number of possible interpretations of a statement or argument.  There are 25 instances of unclear words or phrases in the premises supporting (6a), not including the instances of unclear words or phrases in (6a) itself.  If each of these unclear words or phrases has at least two different possible meanings, then the number of possible interpretations of the premises of this argument are at least 2 to the 25th power:
2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2
= 2 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4
= 2 x 16 x 16 x 16 x 16 x 16 x 16
= 2 x 256 x 256 x 256
= 2 x 16,777,216
= 33,554,432  different possible interpretations of Argument #7 (ignoring any ambiguities in the conclusion)
The problem with ambiguous words and phrases in an argument, is that every instance of such a word or phrase can double or triple the number of possible interpretations of the argument.  Ambiguity increases the the number of possible interpretations exponentially.
If I spent just one-half an hour evaluating each of the 33 million interpretations of Argument #7, it would take 16.5 million hours to evaluate all of the possible interpretations.   There are about 8,760 hours in a year  (24 hours/day  x 365 days = 8,760 hours), so in order to evaluate all of the 33 million interpretations of Argument #7 would take me over 1,883 years, working day and night, seven days a week (16,500,000 hours x  1 year/8,760 hours = 1883.56 years).  So, it is not humanly possible to evaluate every one of the millions of different possible interpretations of this argument.
===================
Clarity is a gateway standard of critical thinking.  A statement that is unclear cannot be evaluated, at least not as it stands.  I attempted to clarify Argument #7 so that it would be possible to evaluate this argument.  But the above revised and clarified version of Peter Kreeft’s Argument from Contingency still contains more than a dozen unclear words and phrases.  Furthermore, those unclear words and phrases appear multiple times in the argument, multiplying the ambiguity and unclarity, resulting in millions of possible meanings of this argument.
I have put the problematic words and phrases in bold red font below, to show how frequently such unclear words and phrases occur in this argument:

1c. IF something exists at time t1, THEN: if that thing depends on something else for its existence at time t1, then there must exist something else at time t1 that  is what it takes for that thing to exist at time t1.

2a. The universethe collection of beings in space and time–exists at time t1.

A. The universethe collection of beings in space and timedepends on something else for its existence at time t1.

THEREFORE:

3c. There must exist something else at time t1 that is what it takes for the universe to exist at time t1.

4a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

THEREFORE:

5a. What it takes for the universe to exist at time t1 must exist at time t1 and must transcend both space and time.

THEREFORE:

6. There is EXACTLY ONE being that is the cause of the current existence of the universe, and this being exists right now and is OUTSIDE of both space and time, and this being is NOT finite or material.

 
UNCLEAR WORDS AND PHRASES IN ARGUMENT #7

  1. something  (1 instance): Is time “something”?  Is space “something”? Is a law of physics “something”? Is an idea or a feeling “something”? Is the number 3 “something”?  Why or why not? If X is something, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is a being?  If X is a being, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is something?  
  2. depends on (2 instances): Does this refer to logical dependency or causal dependency or to both kinds of dependency?  Does this refer to necessary conditions or sufficient conditions or to both kinds of conditions (or to criterial conditions)?
  3. something else (4 instances):  “something” is ambiguous, and so is “else”. Does a part of a whole thing count as “something else” in addition to the whole?  Does a whole containing parts of two other things count as “something else” besides those two other things?
  4. what it takes for  (4 instances):  If the existence of X at a particular moment depends on Y does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that Y is what it takes for X to exist at that particular moment?  What if Y is only ONE of MANY different things that could have caused the existence of X at that moment?  Does what it takes for X to exist at a particular moment refer to logical dependencies of the existence of X or to causal dependencies or to both kinds of dependency?  Does what it takes for X to exist consist of necessary conditions or sufficient conditions or to both kinds of conditions (or to criterial conditions)?
  5. The universe (7 instances): although this word is defined in premise (2a), the definition is itself very unclear and has many possible meanings. The highly ambiguous definition makes the term “universe” highly ambiguous as well.
  6. the collection (2 instances): the universe contains a different set of things at different times, so “the collection” is ambiguous between the set of all the things that have existed in the entire history of the universe and the set of all things that exist at a particular moment in time.
  7. beings (4 instances): If X is something, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is a being?  If X is a being, does that LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is something?  Is time a “being”?  Is space a “being”? Is a law of physics a “being”? Is an idea or a feeling a “being”? Is the number 3 a “being”?  Why or why not?
  8. in space and time (2 instances): Is the requirement that the thing in question be BOTH in space AND in time? or just that the thing in question be EITHER in space OR in time?  The word “and” is ambiguous in this phrase.
  9. within the universe (1 instance): If X is within the universe, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is a being in space and time?  If X is a being in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is within the universe?  If so, then the ambiguity of “being” and the ambiguity of “in space and time” apply to this expression.  For example, is time within the universe?  Is space within the universe?  Are laws of physics within the universe?
  10. bounded by space and time (1 instance):  If X is bounded by space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is in space and time?  If X is in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is bounded by space and time?  If so, then the ambiguity of “in space and time” applies to this expression.  Does being bounded by space and time mean being BOTH in space AND in time? or just that the thing in question be EITHER in space OR in time?
  11. transcend both space and time (1 instance): If X is not in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X transcends both space and time?  If X transcends both space and time does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is not in space and time?  If so, then the ambiguity of “in space and time” applies to this expression.
  12. OUTSIDE of both space and time (1 instance):  I don’t think this was part of Kreeft’s wording, so this is a phrase that I added.  This should probably be revised to “transcend both space and time” which was Kreeft’s own wording.  In that case this would be a second instance of the unclear expression “transcend both space and time”.
  13. finite (1 instance):  Does this mean finite in EVERY respect, or finite in AT LEAST ONE respect?
  14. material (1 instance): If X is in space and time, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is material?  If X is material, does this LOGICALLY IMPLY that X is in space and time?  If so, then the ambiguity of the expression “in space and time” applies to this word.

 
REDUCING THE NUMBER OF POSSIBLE INTERPRETATIONS
Not only are there numerous unclear words and phrases in Argument #7, but many of them occur multiple times in the argument.  Each instance of an ambiguous word or phrase multiplies the number of possible interpretations of the argument. Thus the premises of this argument have at least 33 million different possible interpretations.
There is a simple way to dramatically reduce the number of possible interpretations of this argument: we can simply assume that ALL instances of an expression have the SAME meaning.  If the meaning of an expression changes in the course of an argument, then that usually breaks the logic of the argument and results in an invalid inference or a false conditional premise, making the argument UNSOUND.  So, if we assume that all instances of an expression have the same meaning, that eliminates many versions of the argument that are, in all likelihood, UNSOUND because of the fallacy of equivocation.  So, in making this assumption we are eliminating obviously bad versions of the argument and focusing on a small subset of possible interpretations, which at least have the potential to be good, sound arguments.
So, rather than looking at how many instances there are of unclear words and phrases, we can focus on how many unique words and phrases are unclear.  There are eleven unique words and phrases that are unclear in the premises supporting (6a), not including (6a) itself.  The phrases “depends on”, “something else”, and “the universe” each have four possible meanings, and the eight other unclear words and phrases each have at least two possible meanings.  So, if we assume that ALL instances of each of these eleven unique words and phrases have the same meaning, that none of these words or phrases shifts in meaning in the course of this argument, then the number of possible interpretations would be 4 to the 3rd power times 2 to the 8th power:
(4 x 4 x 4) x (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2)
(4 x 4 x 4) x (4 x 4 x 4 x 4)
= 64 x 256
= 16, 384 different possible interpretations of Argument #7 (ignoring any ambiguities in the conclusion and assuming all of the expressions are used unequivocally)
If we spend just one-half hour on evaluating each of these possible interpretations, that would require 8,192 hours of work.
If we work on this 40 hours per week, then it would take about 205 weeks or nearly four years to finish evaluating all of those different possible interpretations (8,192 hours x 1 week/40 hours = 204.8 weeks).
I don’t know about you, but this argument does not seem promising enough to want to spend four years of my life evaluating all of the 16,384 different possible versions of it (on the assumption that all expressions in the argument are used unequivocally).
I do think it is worth spending some time thinking about the various possible meanings of the unclear words and phrases in this argument, but this argument is much too UNCLEAR to be worth any more of my time.

bookmark_borderOn reasons and what they do

This post is something of a follow-up to my recent post about Sean Carroll’s views concerning meaning and purpose. As I indicated at the end of that post, I used some concepts and made some claims that require development and defense and I promised that I would provide that development and defense in a future post. The current post is part of the fulfillment of that promise. I hope that I can clarify some of the claims I made in that post, specifically claims concerning reasons. I also hope the remarks I make here can serve as a basis for a more robust discussion, about not only meaning but also rationality and morality, here at the Secular Outpost.
As I indicated, most of what I have to say concerns the nature of reasons and their role in justification. Let me start by providing the quote that I took from Volume 2 of On What Matters by Derek Parfit:

We cannot, however, make things good by commanding or willing that they be good. Though we can sometimes change people’s evaluative beliefs, that is not a way of creating new values. Nor can we make anything matter. When something matters to us, in the sense that we care about this thing, that is merely a psychological fact. Something matters only when, and in the sense that, we have object-given reasons to care about this thing. (Parfit Vol.2, 601)

I want to explain what Parfit means when he talks about object-given reasons. I would also like to defend the claims he makes about such reasons (and Parfit’s meta-normative view more generally), but the defense will have to wait for a future post. It is enough if I am able to make his view about meaning and reasons more clear.
A reason is a factor that counts in favor. There are factors that count in favor of beliefs (commonly called epistemic reasons) and factors that count in favor of decisions, desires, and actions (commonly called practical reasons). When we say of some factor, that it is a reason, we say that it tends to favor the belief, decision, desire, or etc. Importantly, for this discussion, we are talking about reasons pro tanto, i.e. factors that, taken by themselves, count in favor but which, when considered in the complete context of all relevant factors, might themselves be overridden. In other words, when we say that something is a reason, we say merely that it counts in favor, not that overall and all things considered, we should respond to this reason. Any conclusion about what we should do, want, believe, etc. depends on more complete consideration and weighing of all relevant factors. For the purposes of the present discussion, we are not engaged in drawing conclusions about what we should want (or do, etc.), i.e., what we have overall reason to want (or do, etc.), but only what counts in favor of wanting (or doing, etc.).
The above concerns normative reasons. Normative reasons are contrasted with motivating reasons (or motives). A motivating reason is a factor that serves as the basis for an agent’s decision (to act, desire, approve of, etc.). Importantly, not all factors that serve as the basis of an agent’s decision really do count in favor of that decision. In other words, it is possible for agents to get things wrong; an agent can believe, of some fact, that it counts in favor of her decision and yet it not be the case that the fact does count in favor of that decision. We can make the same point by saying that not all motivating reasons are normative reasons. Sometimes the factors that we believe count in favor of our decisions really do count in favor of them (in such cases, our motivating reasons are also normative). However, often the factors that we believe count in favor actually do not count in favor (and hence our motivating reasons are not normative). For the remainder of this essay (and in general), when I use the word ‘reason,’ I am talking about normative reasons. When I want to talk about motivating reasons in a context in which I do not want to assume that they are also normative, I will call them motives (or motivating reasons). I think that this linguistic practice is an important one that we all ought to adopt as a means of eliminating ambiguity. Discussing and thinking about reasons is notoriously difficult and fraught with potential intellectual dead ends. To facilitate a more robust and fruitful discussion, we need to be as clear as we can. So,

Reason means normative reason. A reason is a factor that counts in favor (of some act, desire, belief, reaction, emotion, etc.).

Motive means motivating reason. A motive is a factor that an agent believes counts in favor (and thus serves as the basis of action, desire, belief, etc.). When an agent has such a belief and this belief guides her decisions, the factor is a motive for her.

One of the most important things that reasons do is justify; i.e., a reason tends to provide justification for actions, beliefs, desires, etc. I am going to talk about justification in the context of practical reasons, but most of things that I say about the practical sphere transfer to the epistemic sphere. An important aspect of justification involves universalizability. When one of my actions is justified, then it is based on some reason(s). Further, if my action is justified, then if some other person acted in the same manner in appropriately similar circumstances, this person would also be equally justified (i.e., justified to the same extent that I am justified) in acting in this way. And the factor that counts in favor of my action would also count in favor of this other person’s action. This point generalizes to all persons. So, the reason(s) that justifies my behavior is universalizable in this sense: it counts in favor not just of my action but of any similar action performed by any other person who is in circumstances similar to mine. [Important: the fact that some reason justifies my action does not mean that I am obligated to engage in that action, nor does it mean that I ought to do it. Just as with the case of reasons, I am here talking about pro tanto justification rather than overall justification.]
Let’s look at a simple example to see how these concepts work in context. Suppose that I am walking down a city street and encounter a homeless person who asks for my assistance. Suppose further that I decide to give him $20 and that I do this because I believe that he needs help. My motive for giving him the money is that he needs help. Let’s grant, at least for the sake of this discussion, that he really does need help and that the fact that he needs help counts in favor of giving him $20. If so, then my motive is also a normative reason. This entails that my action is justified (at least to some extent) and that any other person who was in similar circumstances (that is, with this man or any similarly situated homeless person) would be equally justified in giving a person in need of help $20. And the factor that counts in favor of my act of giving $20 would also count in favor of any other person’s similar act.
When Parfit talks about object-given reasons, he is talking about facts about objects that count in favor. [Importantly, ‘object’ here is given a wide meaning such that states, such as the state of being in pain, or of experiencing pleasure, count as objects.] A good example is suffering. Suffering has features that provide us with reasons to want to avoid it and to engage in avoidance behavior. These features are intrinsic to the object in question, e.g., suffering in this case. Thus, the nature of suffering gives us object-given reasons to want to avoid it and to engage in actions that enable us to avoid it. [Again, this is not the same as claiming that, overall, we always should avoid suffering; only that, in all cases, there are factors that count in favor of avoiding suffering.]
Some moral philosophers believe that there are no practical object-given reasons. According to subjectivism, all practical reasons for a person are dependent on features of that person’s motivational set. Subjectivists typically hold a desire-based view of reasons (DBR). On this view (famously attributed to David Hume and defended in the twentieth century by Bernard Williams, among others), our reasons are generated by our desires. I have reason to do what is necessary for (or at least the most effective way of) satisfying my desires. More carefully, we can articulate this view as follows:
DBR: For a person, P, to have a reason to engage in some behavior, F, P must have some desire (or desire-like state) d, such that F-ing tends to promote the satisfaction of d.
If DBR is true, then there can be no (practical) object-given reasons to care about (or do, or want) anything since all (practical) reasons would be subjective. ‘Subjective’ means ‘dependent on the subject.’ To say that some feature, f, is subjective is to say that f constitutively depends on the desires, interests, attitudes, or reactions of a subject or subjects. To say that some feature, f, is objective is to say that f does NOT constitutively depend on the desires, interests, attitudes, or reactions of any subject or subjects. A subject, in this context, is a being that is a bearer of conscious states, such as beliefs, desires, emotions, and attitudes. So, if DBR is true, then all (practical) reasons are subjective since whether I have a reason constitutively depends on my desires.
I mention DBR here only to contrast it with Parfit’s view so that the most significant aspect of Parfit’s view comes to the foreground. Importantly, on Parfit’s view, all normative reasons are object-given. In addition, his view implies that desire-based reasons are not normative. Saying that a reason is object-given is another way of saying that it is not desire-based. Thus, to say that there are object-given reasons to care about something is to say that there are factors, intrinsic to the object, that count in favor of our caring about this thing and that in no way depend on our (or any other person’s) desires. If there are such object-given reasons, then they are objective and thus apply to all rational agents, regardless of our goals, interests, desires, or attitudes.

bookmark_borderCan humans create meaning? Can God?

Sean Carroll is an excellent scientist and philosopher. One of his greatest virtues is that he understands both the important role that philosophy must play in the scientific enterprise and that there are some questions that science is not situated to answer and that are the province of philosophy. It is always worthwhile to listen to him discuss scientific and philosophical issues. In the following clip, he talks with Robert Lawrence Kuhn about whether there can be meaning and purpose in a godless universe.

Some of the things that Carroll says in this video are very insightful. For example, he says that it is wrong to think of meaning as a separate kind of thing that must be added to the universe. However, I think that his larger point about meaning and purpose is, at best, ambiguous and, on the most natural interpretation, completely wrong.
In the video (at the 5:17 mark) Carroll says,

“Any person who has wants or desires brings meaning into existence.”

and

“The question, ‘Is there meaning in the world?’ is just the question, ‘Are there human beings who care about things?’ and the answer is obviously yes.”

These statements are ambiguous. There are two things that Carroll might be indicating. First, he might be saying that persons are themselves valuable and that, because of this, the existence of persons makes the world meaningful. Second, he might be claiming that persons create value in virtue of wanting and desiring things. While there is this ambiguity, I think it much more likely that Carroll means to indicate the second rather than the first.
If I am right, then Sean Carroll is here offering a subjectivist account of meaning. He is claiming that there is meaning so long as there are humans who care about things and that this is because, by caring about things, humans make them meaningful. A subjectivist view of meaning claims that meaning is dependent on the goals, interests, desires, reactions, or attitudes of subjects. On such a view, it would be correct to say that human subjects create meaning by making things meaningful. We make things meaningful, on Carroll’s view, by caring about them. Thus, their being meaningful depends on our attitudes. Is Carroll right about this?
Consider,

Emptiness: Leela has lately been preoccupied with the thought that life is probably not worth living. Her friends Philip and Amy are trying to help her through this existential crisis. Leela says that she suspects that life is ultimately empty of all significance, merely an unfortunate and meaningless accident. Philip and Amy remind Leela that there are many things that she cares about: her friends, her career, her charity work helping orphans. Leela says that it is true that she has cared about those things, but now she wonders whether she should concern herself with them at all. “All of these people and all of these things,” Leela says, “are just tiny, insignificant specks in the unfathomable and infinite depths of the indifferent universe. And, like Roy Batty, I am acutely aware that all of them will be lost in time like tears in rain. In such a world, in which a human life is but an infinitesimal fleeting instant compared to the vastness of time and space, can anything really matter?”

When Leela wonders whether she should care about what she used to care about, she is not wondering whether, in fact, she still cares about these things; she is wondering whether there are reasons for her to care about these things. It would be no help to her and no answer to her question to insist that she does care about them. She suspects that life is meaningless not because she doesn’t care about anything (and certainly not because there are no humans who care about things; she knows that there are plenty of people who care about things). She is worried that life is meaningless because, she suspects, there are no reasons to care about anything.
Consider now the statement,

(M) There are things that matter to Leela.

This statement is ambiguous. (M) might mean

(N) There are things that Leela cares about.

Or,

(O) There are reasons for Leela to care about some things and Leela recognizes those  reasons and responds to them by caring about these things.

(N) is a psychological claim about Leela. It says that Leela has concern for certain things. But (N) does not tell us whether there are reasons for Leela to have such concern. And Leela’s worry is that there might not be such reasons. According to Carroll, Leela can make her life meaningful just by caring about things. But telling Leela that there are things that she cares about (or at least that she has cared about) will not help her; this will not enable her to see that life is meaningful. This is because the problem facing Leela, the problem of whether her life is meaningful, is precisely the problem of whether she has reasons to care about anything.
We cannot create value, significance, or meaning because we cannot make it the case that there are reason to care about things. We can make things that are worth caring about, but we cannot make it the case that they are worth caring about. As Derek Parfit says,

We cannot, however, make things good by commanding or willing that they be good. Though we can sometimes change people’s evaluative beliefs, that is not a way of creating new values. Nor can we make anything matter. When something matters to us, in the sense that we care about this thing, that is merely a psychological fact. Something matters only when, and in the sense that, we have object-given reasons to care about this thing. (Parfit Vol.2, 601)

Carroll is wrong about meaning. Though we can make our lives meaningful in the sense that we can choose to bring things into our lives that matter, we cannot make things valuable, we cannot make things matter, and we cannot make things meaningful. This is not because we lack the power to do so. It is not because humans are small and weak; even God cannot make things matter. God can make things that matter (but so can humans) but God cannot make the things that he makes matter. In the same way, humans can produce some of the things that matter in life (though not all of them and maybe not even the most important of them), but we cannot make these things matter. Whether the things we make matter, whether anything matters, is something over which we have no control. Humans cannot make things matter because it is impossible to make things matter.
In what sense can God create meaning?
Near the beginning of the clip (roughly the 1:43 mark) Carroll says that our conception of meaning changes when we leave theism behind since we are not given instructions from God and that “it is, at the very least, up to us to create these things.” This is a significant error. The conception of meaning is not altered by whether God, or any other supernatural entity, exists. Whether life is meaningful depends on whether there are, in our lives, things that matter. And whether there are things that matter is a matter of whether there are things that are worth caring about. The question of whether life has meaning is not the question of whether anyone cares about things but whether there are things such that there are reasons to care about them.
The claim that God makes life meaningful is ambiguous. There are two different things that it might mean:

(A) God creates the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile (and that, in virtue of being valuable and worthwhile, give our lives meaning).

(B) God makes it the case that the things in life that are valuable and worthwhile are valuable and worthwhile. Thus, by making these things valuable and worthwhile, God makes it the case that our lives are meaningful.

Those who, like Carroll, think that our conception of meaning and purpose must change when we abandon theism are assuming (B). Any atheist who thinks either that humans can create their own meaning even in the absence of God or that, in the absence of God, life is objectively empty of meaning, are implicitly assuming (B) as well. And I think that many theists also believe that (B) is the case.
If you believe that God is the creator of Heaven and Earth, then you believe that (A) is true. In creating things like human beings, and the planets and stars, and natural landscapes, and plants and animals, and happiness and love, God creates things that have value. God, if he exists, creates the things that are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation; and, in doing so, he makes it possible for human lives to be meaningful. If God exists, then, because of God and his activity, there exists things such that we have object-given reasons to care about them. However, if (A) is true, God does not make any of these things valuable; he does not make it the case that these things are worthy of pursuit, preservation, and appreciation.
If life is meaningful, if there are object-given reasons to care about things, then, even on theism, the things that are valuable and worthwhile (the things that make life meaningful and worth living) must be valuable and worthwhile even if God does not exist. Now, it is always open for a theist to claim that, on her worldview, nothing can exist in the absence of God. Well, in that case, if God did not exist, life would not be meaningful but for the trivial reason that life would not be. I am not here trying to rule out or defeat the claim that all concrete things (including the things, like people, and nature, and happiness, and joy, that make life meaningful) depend for their existence on God. What I am trying to rule out is the claim that the value of these things depends on God.
(B) is false. And everyone, theist and atheist alike, should be able to agree that it is false. We know that God cannot create value and meaning because we know that there are some things that God cannot make valuable, worthwhile, or meaningful. And if there are some things such that God cannot make them valuable (etc.), then this implies that God does not have the power to bring value into existence where it does not exist. In other words, God cannot take something that, in the absence of God and his activity, would be worthless and make it worthwhile. Let’s expand this argument.
We know that there are things that God cannot make good or worthwhile. God cannot make suffering good. He cannot make wanton murder worthwhile. Each of these cases involves something that is intrinsically bad and so the thought that God could make these things good involves the thought that God could take something that is intrinsically bad and make it good. This thought is absurd. The nature of suffering gives us reasons to avoid it and God cannot change that. If the nature of suffering were different, such that we no longer had reasons to avoid it, then it would no longer be suffering (and thus talk of the nature of suffering being other than that of providing us with reasons to avoid it is absurd). Wanton murder results in significant suffering and involves the cutting short of a worthwhile life. God cannot make such activity good.
Now, since there are some things (e.g., suffering and murder) that God cannot make good and worthwhile, it follows that God lacks the capacity to make bad things good. This shows that God’s power is limited in this domain, that is, the domain of value, significance, and meaning. If we agree that God cannot make awful things good, then why would we think that he can make anything good?
This same reasoning implies that there are things that God can’t make bad. Consider happiness. The nature of happiness gives us reasons to pursue it, promote it, and appreciate it. God cannot change that. What could God do to make happiness be something that we have no reason to pursue? The question answers itself.
The recognition that it is the nature of suffering that gives us reasons to avoid it and it is the nature of happiness that gives us reason to pursue it yields the following generality: It is the nature of things that provide us with reasons to desire, pursue, preserve, appreciate, care about them. (This is what Parfit means to indicate when he speaks of object-given reasons.) God can create things with a nature, but it is in virtue of that nature (rather than the fact that it is created by God) that these things are significant, insignificant, worthwhile, worthless, etc. God cannot take something whose nature gives us reasons to avoid it and make it something that is worthwhile to pursue. Similarly, God cannot take something, like a piece of refuse, whose nature gives us no reason to pursue, preserve, appreciate, or care about it, and make it the case that this piece of refuse, with this nature, is worthy of pursuit, is desirable, (etc.). And God cannot take something, like happiness, whose nature gives us reason to pursue it, and make it the case that this thing (something, e.g., with the nature of happiness) is something that we have no reason to pursue, preserve, appreciate, or care about.
God can make things that are valuable, but he cannot make it the case that they are valuable. So, let’s compare two universes. The first, which we’ll call G-universe, is one in which God exists and in which life is meaning and there are things that matter. The other universe, NG-universe, is one that is just like G-universe but in which there is no God. Since the things in G-universe, such as planets, stars, human beings, animals, etc. would exist in NG-universe and would have their same nature and properties, there would still be things that matter in NG-universe. For example, there are human beings in NG-universe and human beings have the same nature and properties in NG-universe as they have in G-universe. Since it is the nature of things that provide us with reasons to pursue, preserve, appreciate, or care about them, if humans matter in G-universe, they matter in NG-universe. Suffering and the relieving of suffering exist in NG-universe. So, if suffering has negative value in G-universe, it has negative value in NG-universe. If the relieving of suffering is worthwhile in G-universe, then it is worthwhile in NG-universe.
Since God has the unlimited capacity to create concrete objects, if he exists, he can create things that are valuable. He can also provide states of affairs and experience that are of significant value and such that, in the absence of God, would not be possible. For example, God can provide humans with the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with a perfect being. If God does not exist, then such a relationship may not be possible. So, God can add meaning to our lives by creating or making possible things that matter a great deal, but God cannot create meaning.
In the same way and for the same reasons, we humans cannot create meaning. We can pursue meaningful things, activities, etc., and by pursuing and achieving good and worthwhile things, we can bring meaning into our lives. But we cannot make a thing or activity be meaningful. If something is meaningful, then there are object-given reasons to care about it. We cannot and God cannot make it the case that there are object-given reasons to care about anything.
 
**Note: In this essay, I have used some concepts and claims (especially about reasons) that require more development and defense than I have been able to provide here. In a follow-up essay, I will endeavor to provide these.
 

bookmark_borderATHEISM 101

The words “atheism” and “atheist” are used as insults to denigrate people.
These words are used like “liberal” and “communist” are used by right-wing blowholes on AM radio, who don’t have a clue about the actual meanings of those words. They use those words indiscriminately in order to blur the distinctions between them, in order to create fear and hostility and to promote an Us vs. Them mindset:

  • Democrat = Liberal
  • Liberal = Socialist
  • Socialist = Communist
  • Communist = Lying, murdering, evil bastard

But people who actually have some brain cells between their ears use these words with more care, and understand that these words have different meanings, different implications.  Not all Democrats are liberals.  Some Democrats are moderates, and some Democrats are conservatives.  Not all liberals are socialists.  Not all socialists are communists.  Not all communists are lying, murdering, evil bastards.
The same sort of mindless blurring of distinctions occurs with the words “atheist” and “atheism”:

  • Atheist = God-hater 
  • Atheist = nihilist
  • Atheist = anarchist
  • Atheist = communist
  • Atheist = Lying, murdering, evil bastard

One thing that even some atheists fail to realize is that atheism does not assert or imply anything.
Atheism is not a religion.  Atheism is not a philosophy.  Atheism is not a worldview.  Atheism is not a theory.  Atheism is the rejection of theism.  If you reject theism, then you are an atheist.  If you have not rejected theism, then you are not an atheist.
(Note: Infants are neither theists nor atheists, because infants have neither accepted theism nor rejected theism.)
But, someone will object, atheists DO believe and assert something, namely they believe and assert that: There is no God.  
Nope.  That is true of many atheists, but not true of all atheists.  Some atheists reject theism because they believe that the statement “God exists” is a meaningless statement that is neither true nor false.  Such atheists do not assert that “There is no God”, because such an assertion is just as meaningless, in their view, as the statement “God exists”.  Both statements are nonsense, according to some atheists.
Theism, on the other hand, does clearly assert something: God exists.  If you believe that God exists, then you are a theist.  If you don’t believe that God exists, then you are NOT a theist.  This claim or belief that is asserted by theists has logical implications.  Here are some important logical implications of this claim:

  • There is a person who is omnipotent.
  • There is a person who is omniscient.
  • There is a person who is perfectly morally good.
  • There is a person who has no physical body.
  • There is a person who has always existed and who will continue to exist forever.
  • There is a person who created the universe.
  • There is a person who has all of the above characteristics.

Atheism does not assert any claim, and atheism does not have any logical implications.  Theism asserts one claim (“God exists”), and that one claim has many logical implications.  Theism is not a religion.  Theism is not a worldview.  Theism is, however, a metaphysical theory which constitutes an important part of various religious worldviews.  The Christian worldview, for example, is at the core of the Christian religion, and theism is at the core of the Christian worldview.  But theism is also at the core of other religious worldviews, so theism is not exclusive to Christianity.
Why are people theists?  Why do people believe that God exists?  There is no one correct answer to this question.  Different people believe in God for different reasons.  I suppose it is theoretically possible that every theist has some great fear of death and their belief in God is unconsciously motivated by the desire to escape death and to live forever.  But this seems very unlikely.
I have no doubt that some people who believe in God do so because they fear death, and belief in God helps them to deal with their fear of death.  But there are billions of people who have believed in God, and people have very different personalities, cultures, personal histories and experiences.  It seems extremely unlikely that every one of the billions of people who have believed in God, believe in God for exactly the same reason, or that this belief has exactly the same psychological cause in every case.
I have no doubt that there are some people who believe in God because after careful examination of arguments for and against God, they became convinced that the pro arguments were better and stronger than the con arguments.  This is probably a small minority of the billions of theists who have lived on this planet, but I’m sure there have been and are a few such theists.
What people often fail to realize is that atheism, the rejection of theism, can also have a variety of reasons or causes.  I have no doubt that some people reject theism because they had a cruel father, and the idea of “God the Father” was thus a repugnant idea to them.  Such a person rejects theism not on the basis of a good reason or a solid argument, but because some bad experiences prejudice them against giving serious consideration to the claim “God exists”.
I also have no doubt that some atheists have carefully considered the arguments for and against the existence of God, and have concluded that the arguments against God are stronger and better than the arguments for God.  Some atheists have analyzed the statement “God exists” and concluded that this statement only appears to make a meaningful claim, but that it is actually just a bit of nonsense that carries some strong emotional freight.  Such atheists deny that the words “God exists” make a claim that could be true or false.
Just as there are many different reasons and causes why some people accept theism, so there are many different reasons and causes why some people reject theism.
The rejection of theism, tells us almost nothing about what a person does believe.  Consider this analogy:
Jane Doe rejects marxism.
Suppose that this is the only information we have about what Jane Doe believes or doesn’t believe.
Can we conclude that Jane Doe is a Republican?  No.  The Republican party only exists in the USA.  If Jane Doe is not a citizen or resident of the USA, then she probably has no option to become a Republican.  The country where she lives, in that case, might have some other conservative political party.  Furthermore, most Democrats reject marxism, as do virtually all Libertarians.  So, if Jane Doe lives in the USA, she might be a Republican, but it is also possible that she is a Democrat or a Libertarian.
Can we conclude that Jane Doe is a conservative? No.  There are liberals and moderates who also reject marxism.  In fact, there are radical leftists who reject marxism.  So, Jane Doe might be a conservative, but she might also be a moderate, or a liberal, or even a radical leftist.
Is Jane Doe a Christian?  Well, there are some Christians who are marxists, so being a Christian does not prove that one rejects marxism.  Furthermore, there are Jews who reject marxism, there are Muslims who reject marxism, there are Buddhists who reject marxism, and there are atheists who reject marxism, so although Jane might be a Christian, she might also be a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist or an atheist.
Well, if Jane Doe has rejected marxism, then we could at least conclude that she is a capitalist, that she supports the capitalist economic system.  Nope.  Marxism is a complex set of basic beliefs and values.  It is a worldview.  Marxism is critical of capitalism, but that is just one aspect of marxism.  Jane Doe might also be critical of capitalism, but have some other problem or objection to marxism.  Perhaps Jane thinks that marxism is anti-democracy, and Jane is a big supporter of democracy.  One could be a fan of democracy while not being a fan of capitalism.  So, Jane Doe might have rejected marxism and yet NOT be a supporter of capitalism.
Do you get my drift here?  The fact that Jane Doe has rejected marxism tells us virtually NOTHING about what Jane Doe herself believes.  One problem is that there is not just ONE alternative to marxism; there are many alternative worldviews that are in competition with marxism.  Another problem is that there are different reasons why one might reject marxism; there is not just ONE reason why people reject marxism.
The same is true of theism.  When someone rejects theism they can do so for a variety of different reasons or motivations.  Furthermore, there is not just ONE alternative to theism.  There are a variety of different metaphysical theories that are in competition with theism.  So, the fact that a person has rejected theism tells us almost nothing about what that person does believe.

  • Some atheists are marxists and some are not marxists.
  • Some atheists are existentialists and some are not existentialists.
  • Some atheists are materialists and some are not materialists.
  • Some atheists are naturalists and some are not naturalists.
  • Some atheists are nihilists and some are not nihilists.
  • Some atheists are relativists and some are not relativists.
  • Some atheists are liberals and some are not liberals.

Knowing that someone is an “atheist” does not tell us what that person believes, it only tells us that this person does NOT believe one particular statement: “God exists.”