bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 5: Something Exists

Before I start an analysis and evaluation of Thomas Aquinas’s Unmoved Mover argument, I want to finish evaluating Norman Geisler’s Thomist Cosmological Argument (hereafter: TCA) in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).  In Part 4 of this series,  I showed that the very brief argument Geisler gives in support of the first premise of TCA is a stinking philosophical TURD.
But Geisler gives a more detailed and in-depth defense of the first premise of TCA in his older book Philosophy of Religion (hereafter: PoR).  So, before we can write off premise (1) of TCA, we should consider what he has to say in support of that premise in Chapter 9 of PoR.

Here is Geisler’s argument in PoR (p.191) for the claim that “something exists”, which is part of what premise (1) asserts: 

Here are the key claims in this argument in Geisler’s own words:

11. It is actually undeniable that something exists.

12. I exist.

13. Any attempt to deny one’s own existence is self-defeating.

14. One always (implicitly) affirms his own existence in the very attempt to deny it.

15. One must exist in order to make the denial.

16. If he exists, the denial is not true.

17. All attempts to deny the existence of everything self-destruct.

18. It is necessary to affirm that something exists.

The above claims could use some clarification:

11a. It is undeniable that something exists.

12a. Norman Geisler exists.

13a. Any attempt by a person to deny his/her own existence is self-defeating.

14a. A person implicitly affirms his/her own existence in any attempt by that person to deny his/her own existence.

15a. A person must exist in order for that person to deny his/her own existence.

16a. IF a person exists, THEN the denial by that person of his/her own existence is not true.

17a. All attempts by a person to deny the existence of everything are self-defeating.

18a.  Something exists.

Geisler is not at all clear about the logical structure of this argument, but I will attempt to re-construct his reasoning.  I think the basic structure of the argument goes like this:

15a. A person must exist in order for that person to deny his/her own existence.

THEREFORE:

H. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN that person exists.

16a. IF a person exists, THEN the denial by that person of his/her own existence is not true.

THEREFORE:

I. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN the denial by that person of his/her own existence is not true.

J.  IF the denial by a person of his/her own existence is not true, THEN the affirmation of  that person’s existence is true.

THEREFORE:

K. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN the affirmation of that person’s existence is true.

THEREFORE:

14a. A person implicitly affirms his/her own existence in any attempt by that person to deny his/her own existence.

THEREFORE:

13a. Any attempt by a person to deny his/her own existence is self-defeating.

L. When a person denies the existence of everything, that person is denying his/her own existence.

THEREFORE:

17a. All attempts by a person to deny the existence of everything are self-defeating.

THEREFORE:

11a. It is undeniable that something exists.

THEREFORE:

18a.  Something exists.

NOTE: I don’t see what logical role premise (12a) has in this argument.  It might just be pointing to a specific example that one could use to walk through the logic of the argument, which involves universal generalizations (e.g. “any attempt”, “one always”, “all attempts”).  Geisler exists.  But what if he denies his own existence?  In that case, he must exist in order to be able to deny his existence, according to premise (15a), and so on.  I believe that we can toss premise (12a) aside without damaging this argument.
Here is an argument diagram showing the logical structure of Geisler’s argument for the conclusion that “Something exists”:
 
This seems like a very complicated argument for the very simple claim that “Something exists”.  I wonder if the basic premises of this argument are any more obvious or certain than the claim that “Something exists”.  If not, then this argument has no value or significance.  The premises of an argument need to be more obvious and more certain than the conclusion, at least in the case of deductive arguments (with inductive arguments you can arrive at a conclusion that has a high degree of probability even if some of the premises have only a modest degree of probability).
EVALUATION OF GEISLER’S ARGUMENT FOR “SOMETHING EXISTS”
Geisler’s argument starts with this initial inference:

15a. A person must exist in order that person to deny his/her own existence.

THEREFORE:

H. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN that person exists.

Premise (15a) is clearly and obviously TRUE, and the inference seems to be VALID. I’m not sure that (15a) is any more obvious or certain than (H), but since both seem obvious and certain, I won’t quibble about this infrence.  I do have one caveat here, though.  One can deny one’s own existence at time t1, and if so, then one must exist at time t1, but then one could cease to exist and thus no longer exist at time t2.  So, there is an implicit reference to time in both (15a) and (H).
Here is the next inference in Geisler’s argument:

H. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN that person exists.

16a. IF a person exists, THEN the denial by that person of his/her own existence is not true.

THEREFORE:

I. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN the denial by that person of his/her own existence is not true.

This inference from (H) and (16a) is a hypothetical syllogism and is clearly deductively VALID.  Premise (H) is obviously and certainly TRUE.  So, the main question is whether premise (16a) is also TRUE.  This premise is also obviously and certainly TRUE, so this deductive argument is SOUND.  Premise (I) also appears to be obviously and certainly true, even apart from the argument, so I’m not sure if this argument does any real work.  But since both premises appear to be obviously and certainly TRUE, I won’t quibble about this deductive argument.  (I don’t know if this matters, but all three claims here have an implicit reference to time, because a person can exist and one point in time, but then cease to exist, and thus not exist at a later point in time.)
Here is the next inference in Geisler’s argument for “Something exists”:

I. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN the denial by that person of his/her own existence is not true.

J.  IF the denial by a person of his/her own existence is not true, THEN the affirmation of  that person’s existence is true.

THEREFORE:

K. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN the affirmation of that person’s existence is true.

Premise (I) is clearly and certainly TRUE, and this is another hypothetical syllogism, so the inference from (I) and (J) to (K) is a deductively VALID inference.  The main question here is thus whether premise (J) is TRUE.  Premise (J) seems to be true, but I have a concern about the shift from “the denial…is not true” to “the affirmation…is true”.  In arguments about the existence of God, such a conditional claim would NOT be acceptable:

X. IF the denial of the existence of God is not true, THEN the affirmation of the existence of God is true.

In the case of the existence of God, there is a third possibility:

Y. The sentence “God exists” is neither true nor false.

One of the biggest objections to theism in the twentieth century was that the sentence “God exists” does NOT assert a factual claim, a claim that could be true or false.  If we understand the denial of the existence of God to mean agreement with the sentence “It is not the case that God exists”, then that denial could also be said to be neither true nor false.
So, a person who was skeptical about theism on the basis of this sort of objection would say that “the denial of the existence of God is not true” and would also say that “the affirmation of the existence of God is not true“.  Such a skeptic would reject the conditional statement (X) above.  Furthermore, so long as statement (Y) is a logical possibility, then we must all reject the conditional statement (X) above, because that statement assumes that there are only two possibilities: either “God exists” is TRUE or “God exists” is FALSE.
It is not immediately obvious whether this objection concerning the statement “God exists” applies to this particular case, however.  Maybe now we can make use of Geisler’s claim “I exist”, or stated more clearly:

2a. Norman Geisler exists.

Are there only two possibilities with this existence claim?  Let’s consider the parallel with the above conditional statement:

X1. IF the denial of the existence of Norman Geisler is not true, THEN the affirmation of the existence of Norman Geisler is true.

Could a skeptic assert an objection to (X1) that is analogous to the above objection (Y)?

Y1. The sentence “Norman Geisler exists” is neither true nor false.

Of course, anyone could utter the sentence (Y1), but the question is whether this is a meaningful thing to say.  Is it possible that the sentence “Norman Geisler exists” could fail to assert a factual claim, i.e. a claim that was either true or false? It is hard to imagine how this existence claim could fail to assert a factual claim.
I suppose that it is possible that this sentence could be partially true and partially false.  For example, if we think of Norman Geisler as being the co-author of When Skeptics Ask and being the author of Philosophy of Religion, it could turn out that he was the author of Philosophy of Religion but contributed nothing to the book When Skeptics Ask (perhaps he bribed the “co-author” to do all the work but to give him part of the credit).  In that way, the Norman Geisler who we thought existed only partially exists.
On this scenario, there is a a man who was the author of Philosophy of Religion, but there is no man who is both the author of Philosophy of Religion and the co-author of When Skeptics Ask.  But in this sort of case, we would normally conclude that “Norman Geisler exists” but that we had a partially mistaken understanding of what Norman Geisler has done, and thus a partially mistaken understanding of who Norman Geisler is.  There would still presumably be a birth certificate somewhere that recorded the birth of Norman Geisler (or if he changed his name, the birth of the person who later changed his name to: Norman Geisler).
But perhaps I am thinking too narrowly here, too much in keeping with our ordinary common-sense view of the world.  What if I am a brain in a vat and my sensory experiences are being generated by a powerful computer?  In that case, it seems very likely that there is no such person as “Norman Geisler”.  Norman Geisler is merely one of millions of imaginary, unreal persons, animals, plants, and objects that a computer creates in my mind.  I might firmly believe that “Norman Geisler exists” but that belief is based on a deception or delusion, and it is a FALSE belief.  I might fail to figure out that the statement “Norman Geisler exists” is FALSE, but it would, nevertheless, in fact be false, and thus would be a factual claim, a claim that could be true or false.
In the movie The Matrix millions of people were brains in vats (so to speak), and a super-powerful computer allowed these millions of people to interact in a virtual world created by the computer.  So, in a reality like that of The Matrix, the statement “Norman Geisler exists” could be true, even though all of my interactions with Geisler were in a virtual world created by a computer.  Nevertheless, there would be an actual human person, on this scenario, whose mind I would be interacting with, even though the actual body of Norman Geisler might look completely different than the Norman Geisler with whom I have interacted.  In any case, I would still be inclined to say that “Norman Geisler exists” even if all of my interactions with him turned out to be in an imaginary virtual world.
Here is another idea.  Norman Geisler is a dualist.  He believes that every human beings is composed of a body combined with an immaterial soul.  Thus, he believes that he himself is composed of a body combined with an immaterial soul.  So, when he asserts “I exist” (and when I re-state that claim as “Norman Geisler exists”), perhaps what he MEANS is this:

2b. There exists a person named Norman Geisler who is composed of a body and an immaterial soul. 

If that is what Geisler MEANS, then one could argue that the claim “Norman Geisler exists” has a problem that is very similar to the claim “God exists”, namely it makes the sort of metaphysical assertion that fails to make a factual claim, and that is neither true nor false.
The sentence “This body contains the immaterial soul of Norman Geisler” might not make a factual claim.  This sentence might be neither true nor false.  Nevertheless, I think that if someone could persuade Geisler that the sentence “This body contains the immaterial soul of Norman Geisler” (uttered while pointing at Norman Geisler) does NOT make a factual claim, and is neither true nor false, Geisler would still maintain his own existence.  He would probably say “I still believe that I exist, it is just that I had a mistaken notion about the nature of myself.”  So, I don’t think that (2b) is a correct interpretation of (2a), even though Geisler is a dualist, even though he currently believes that he is composed of a body plus an immaterial soul.
I’m having a difficult time coming up with a way of making sense of how it could possibly be the case that the sentence “Norman Geisler exists” could fail to assert a factual claim that is either true or false.  Perhaps this is a failure of my imagination, but I’m going to admit defeat here, and conclude that the sentence “Norman Geisler exists” (unlike the sentence “God exists”) clearly makes a factual claim and must be either true or false.  So, although I was previously hesitant to simply accept premise (J) of Geisler’s argument,  I’m now willing to believe that premise (J) is TRUE, and thus that the deductive argument from premises (I) and (J) to (K) is a SOUND argument.
However, because it required a fair amount of thinking to arrive at agreement with (J), and because I am not entirely certain that (J) is TRUE, I am inclined to raise the objection here that the truth of (J) is LESS obvious and LESS certain than the conclusion that “Something exists”.  So, although Geisler has, so far, provided SOUND deductive arguments in a chain of reasoning leading towards the conclusion that “Something exists”,  I don’t think this argument is successful, because it makes use of at least one premise that is LESS obvious and LESS certain than the conclusion of the argument.
The next inference in Geisler’s argument goes like this:

K. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN the affirmation of that person’s existence is true.

THEREFORE:

14a. A person implicitly affirms his/her own existence in any attempt by that person to deny his/her own existence.

I’m willing to accept premise (K) as TRUE, because it was validly deduced from two premises that I believe to be TRUE, although I don’t think (K) is as obvious or as certain as the ultimate conclusion of this argument (“Something exists.”).
Does premise (K) logically imply (14a)?  It seems to provide support for (14a), but this is NOT a formally valid deductive inference.  For one thing, there is a new term introduced by (14a): “implicitly affirms”.  There is also a shift from talking about a person who “denies his/her own existence” to talking about “any attempt” by a person “to deny his/her own existence”.
Because of the new terms and concepts introduced in (14a) it is NOT obvious or self-evident that (K) logically implies (14a).  Perhaps if we think carefully about this inference we will arrive at the conclusion that (K) does in fact logically imply (14a), but this again raises the concern that a part of Geisler’s argument is LESS obvious or LESS certain than the conclusion of the argument.  If we have to engage in a significant bit of thinking to determine whether (K) logically implies (14a), then this inference might well be a second weakness in the argument, making the truth of (14a) LESS obvious or LESS certain than the truth of (K), which already is LESS obvious or LESS certain than the conclusion of the argument.
In short, every time we encounter a premise or inference that is less than clearly obvious or clearly certain, we depart further from the requirement (for deductive arguments) that the components of the argument be MORE obvious and MORE certain than the conclusion of the argument.  So, if the inference from (K) to (14a) is something less than clearly obvious and clearly certain, then the failure of this argument will be doubly confirmed.
I’m going to set aside my reservations about the introduction of the phrase “any attempt” in premise (14a).  That is to say,  I will grant the assumption that if a person’s denial of his/her own existence necessarily involves that person implicitly affirming his/her own existence, then it would ALSO be the case that “any attempt” by a person to deny his/her own existence necessarily involves that person implicitly affirming his/her own existence.  I will assume here that “any attempt” at such a denial would be equivalent to in fact making such a denial.
That leaves just one potential problem with the inference to premise (14a), the introduction of the previously unused phrase “implicitly affirms”.  It is not immediately clear or obvious what it means to “implicitly affirm” a claim or statement.  So, as it stands, the inference from (K) to (14a) is formally INVALID.  We need a premise that defines or specifies sufficient conditions for when a denial of a claim involves implicitly affirming that claim:

M. IF a person’s denial of claim R logically implies that the affirmation of claim R is true, THEN that person implicitly affirms claim R in any attempt by that person to deny claim R.

K. IF a person denies his/her own existence, THEN the affirmation of that person’s existence is true.

THEREFORE:

14a. A person implicitly affirms his/her own existence in any attempt by that person to deny his/her own existence.

If it takes you a minute to try to wrap your mind around the complex claim (M), that should be an indication of the less-than-perfectly obvious and certain nature of this part of Geisler’s argument.  I’m still unclear and unsure about what the phrase “implicitly affirms” MEANS.
I can accept premise (M) as being a part of some yet-to-be fully explicated stipulative definition of the meaning of “implicitly affirms”.  But so long as the imagined stipulative definition remains incomplete and unstated, we can understand this phrase ONLY in terms of the sufficient condition stated in (M).  We must be vigilant against any inferences based on any implications of the phrase “implicitly affirms” that go beyond the partial definition that (M) provides.
I conclude that this revised sub-argument is SOUND, but given the complexity of (M), I think this part of Geisler’s argument further reduces the degree of obviousness and certainty of the conclusion.  So we now have identified two different parts of Geisler’s argument that are LESS obvious and LESS certain than the conclusion of the argument. Premise (J) is somewhat problematic, which makes the truth of premise (K) LESS obvious and LESS certain than the conclusion that “Something exists”, and the inference from (M) and (K) to (14a) is also somewhat problematic. Thus, the truth of premise (14a) is clearly LESS obvious and LESS certain than the conclusion “Something exists”.
Let’s continue and see if there are any other problems with Geisler’s argument for “Something exists”:

14a. A person implicitly affirms his/her own existence in any attempt by that person to deny his/her own existence.

THEREFORE:

13a. Any attempt by a person to deny his/her own existence is self-defeating.

Here we have yet another inference that is clearly NOT formally VALID.  Premise (13a) introduces a term that has not been used previously in the argument:  “self-defeating”.  Furthermore, just as Geisler failed to clarify or define the phrase “implicitly affirms”, he also failed to clarify or define the phrase “self-defeating”.  Given this context, I can probably construct a stipulative definition of “self-defeating” that will allow us to repair this part of Geisler’s argument, and turn it into a formally VALID inference:

 N. IF a person implicitly affirms claim S in any attempt by that person to deny claim S, THEN any attempt by that person to deny claim S is self-defeating.

14a. A person implicitly affirms his/her own existence in any attempt by that person to deny his/her own existence.

THEREFORE:

13a. Any attempt by a person to deny his/her own existence is self-defeating.

I’m willing to accept premise (N) as a stipulative definition of part of the meaning of “self-defeating”, as applied to denials of claims.  And given that premise, this argument appears to be VALID and SOUND.
Hang in there! We are getting close to the end of Geisler’s very complex argument for the very simple claim that “Something exists”.
TO BE CONTINUED… 
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* NOTE ABOUT PREMISE (15a)
Shortly after publishing this post, I realized that there was in fact a problem with premise (15a).  I think the problem is related to the fact that there are lots of implicit (unstated) references to time in this argument.  If so, the problem with (15a) is probably not a serious one, but I want to point it out anyway, just in case something later in the argument hinges on a reference to time.
Does Aristotle deny that an actual infinity can exist?  Many would say: “Yes, Aristotle denies that an actual infinity can exist.”  But now consider premise (15a):

15a. A person must exist in order for that person to deny his/her own existence.

This initial premise of Geisler’s argument in support of the claim “Something exists” appears to be based on a more general assumption:

O. A person must exist in order for that person to deny ANY CLAIM whatsoever.

But given (O) and our previous claim about Aristotle, we can formulate a VALID deductive argument with a FALSE conclusion:

1. Aristotle denies that an actual infinity can exist.

O. A person must exist in order for that person to deny ANY CLAIM whatsoever.

THEREFORE:

2. Aristotle exists.

It’s true, to the best of my knowledge, that Aristotle existed at one time in the past, more than 2,000 years ago.  But Aristotle no longer exists.  He is no more.  He died a long long time ago.  So, the conclusion of this apparently VALID deductive argument is FALSE.  Thus, to the extent that one agrees with premise (1), and many people would agree with that premise, that casts doubt on the truth of premise (O).
The way to fix this argument, it seems to me, is to introduce clear references to time.  The verb “denies” is present tense, but what we MEAN by premise (1) is that Aristotle made this denial a long time ago, and wrote it down in a book that gives us access to his beliefs and views today.  When premise (O) asserts that a person must exist in order to deny a claim, it means that the person must exist WHILE that person denies the claim, but then after denying the claim could have a massive heart attack, die, and cease to exist, or after denying the claim the person could be annihilated by God (if there is a God) and thus cease to exist.

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 4: Finite Changing Things Exist?

In his book When Skeptics Ask (1990), Norman Geisler presents a Thomist Cosmological Argument for the existence of God (although he FAILED to conclude the argument with the claim that “God exists”!).  I am now going to start evaluating the first premise of this argument:

1. Finite, changing things exist.  (When Skeptics Ask, p. 18; hereafter: WSA.)

Here is the argument Geisler gives in support of this premise:

For example, me. I would have to exist to deny that I exist; so either way, I must really exist.  (WSA, p. 18)

That is the entire extent of Geisler’s defense of premise (1), at least in WSA.  Geisler also has a much older book called Philosophy of Religion (1974; hereafter: PoR), and in that older book he provides three and a half full pages of argumentation in support of premise (1).  So, after I examine his very brief argument for premise (1) from WSA,  I will turn to the arguments that he presents in Chapter 9 of PoR, in support of premise (1) of his Thomist Cosmological Argument.
Pronouns are the devil’s workshop.  They should be avoided whenever possible in carefully-stated philosophical arguments, to avoid UNCLARITY and AMBIGUITY and EQUIVOCATION.  So, let’s revise Geisler’s brief argument in support of premise (1) to make it more clear:

I would have to exist in order to deny that I exist… (WSA, p.18)

==> Norman Geisler would have to exist in order to deny that Norman Geisler exists.

==>Norman Geisler would have to exist in order to deny the claim that Norman Geisler exists.

==>IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

That is a key premise in this argument in support of premise (1).  I take it that (10) is TRUE; it is obviously true.  So, that is a good start, at least. What is the immediate conclusion of this argument?  Here is how Geisler states the conclusion:

…I must really exist.   (WSA, p.18)

Words like “must” and “necessarily” are sometimes used as inference indicators, like the words “thus” and “therefore”.  Such words should be stripped out of carefully-stated philosophical arguments (they are about the logic of the argument, the inferences in the argument, not about the content of the claims in the argument).  Also the word “really” is superfluous here.  Premise (1) makes no distinction between “really existing” and just plain “existing”, so there is no need for such a distinction within an argument supporting premise (1):

…I must really exist. (WSA, p.18)

==> I really exist.

==>I exist.

==>Norman Geisler exists.

11. Norman Geisler exists.

We now have a clear statement of Geisler’s brief argument in support of premise (1):

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

1. Finite, changing things exist.

Just in case you did not notice,  this argument is a piece of SHIT.  It is a stinking philosophical TURD.  Both of the inferences in this argument are clearly and obviously INVALID.  This is NOT rocket science.  So, the fact that the initial premise (10) is TRUE is not enough to make this piece of SHIT argument worth anything.
If I were teaching a Philosophy 101 course, and a freshman turned in a paper that presented this argument,  I would not hesitate for a moment to give that paper an F.    I would expect more out of a freshman taking an introductory philosophy course than what Geisler (a professor of philosophy who has published dozens of books on Christian apologetics, philosophy of religion, and theology) has provided us here.
It seems easy to fix the first part of this argument.  We need to add another premise, one that Geisler neglected to mention:

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

A. Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”

THEREFORE:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

By adding premise (A), we turn Geisler’s INVALID first inference into a VALID inference (called modus ponens). But premise (A) is clearly and obviously FALSE.  So, if this is the argument Geisler had intended, then he has provided an argument that is clearly UNSOUND, and that FAILS to support premise (1).
There is a short phrase in Geisler’s statement of this argument that gives us a clue about how we might be able to fix this first INVALID inference:  “…so either way, I must really exist.”  What is he talking about when he says “either way”?
The phrase “either way” comes out of nowhere and has no clear reference.  However, I suspect that he is talking about the possibility of EITHER accepting the claim “Norman Geisler exists.” or denying the claim “Norman Geisler exists.” Let’s assume that these are the alternatives he had in mind in writing the phrase “either way”.  In that case, we could revise his initial inference this way:

B. EITHER Norman Geisler accepts the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.” OR Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”

C. IF Norman Geisler accepts the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

This argument is not obviously INVALID, like the original argument.  In fact, this revised argument is logically VALID, and premise (C) is clearly and obviously TRUE, as well as premise (10).  So, in order to determine whether this revised argument is SOUND, we need to determine whether premise (B) is true.
Upon reflection premise (B) is FALSE, or at least its truth it problematic.  There is a third possibility not mentioned in (B), and also a fourth possibility as well:

  • Norman Geisler neither accepts nor denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”  
  • Norman Geisler does NOT exist.

Failing to notice the first possibility is similar to making the assumption that everyone must either believe the claim “God exists.” or deny the claim “God exists.”  But some people have never heard about the idea of “God” and have no opinion either way (for example, infants are neither theists nor atheists).  Also, some people who have heard about the idea of “God” remain undecided on the question “Does God exist?”.  Agnostics often neither accept nor deny the claim that “God exists.”
A fourth possibility is that there is no such person or being as “Norman Geisler”.  In order to eliminate this fourth possibility, one would have to assume that “Norman Geisler exists”.  But that is the VERY CONCLUSION that is being argued for here.  Such an assumption would BEG THE QUESTION in the very first premise of this revised argument.
So, Geisler has FAILED to establish his first intermediate conclusion:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

But there are still more problems with this stinking philosophical TURD that Geisler has provided for us:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

1. Finite, changing things exist.

There are four words in premise (1), and Geisler has completely IGNORED three of those four words:  “Finite”, “changing”, and “things”.  He did make an attempt to show that “Norman Geisler exists“, but, as we just determined:

  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler exists.

This second inference from (11) to (1) is not merely INVALID; it is TRIPLY INVALID!  It is illogical in three different respects:

  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler is “finite”.
  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler is “changing”.
  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler is a “thing”.

So, there are four different claims that he needs to prove in order to support premise (1), and he FAILED to prove EACH of those four different things.  That is why Geisler’s argument in support of (1) in WSA is a stinking philosophical TURD.  It would be difficult to locate an argument by a professor of philosophy that was so awful and that so obviously FAILED.

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 3: Norman vs. Bradley

I’m having fun with critical examination of Norman Geisler’s Thomist cosmological argument in When Skeptics Ask.  There is also a more detailed and in-depth presentation of this argument in Chapter 9 of Geisler’s much older book The Philosophy of Religion (1974).
I previously thought that the first premise of his Thomist cosmological argument was obviously true, but now I’m not so sure.  I now think there are problems of UNCLARITY in the key terms “finite thing” and “changing thing.”
Below is a short fictional dialogue that I quickly constructed to explore some of my thoughts about what it means to say something is a “finite thing”.
I will return to my usual, more pedantic style in future posts.
=====================
Bradley: This pebble in my hand is INFINITE!
Norman: No it isn’t. It is a small object. I can plainly see that it is less than 1″ in diameter.
Bradley: True. It is not INFINITE in its size. However, it might still be an INFINITE thing. It might have INFINITE mass.
Norman: Nope. Plainly you are able to hold the pebble up with just one hand, so it must weigh less than 200 pounds. Since you are not straining at all to hold the pebble up with just one hand, it probably weighs less than 10 pounds. Assuming it is an ordinary pebble, given its size, it probably weighs less than 1 pound.
Bradley: OK. All right. The pebble has a finite size, and a finite mass. Perhaps it contains INFINITE energy.
Norman: If it contained INFINITE heat energy, you would not be able to hold it in your hand. It would instantly burn a hole through your hand.
Bradley: What if it had INFINITE electrical energy?
Norman: Then it would electrocute you and instantly fry your entire body like a billion lightning strikes hitting your hand all at once.
Bradley: You have a point there. Maybe it contains INFINITE kinetic energy.
Norman: I don’t think so. Kinetic energy depends in part on the mass of the object, and we have already established that the pebble has only a small amount of mass, and it clearly isn’t moving very fast, if at all.
Bradley: How about the past age of the pebble? Perhaps this pebble has existed for an INFINITE amount of time.
Norman: I doubt that. The earth is supposed to be about 4.5 billion years old, so the pebble is probably less than 4.5 billion years old (according to your godless evolution-infected geology).
Bradley: But you don’t know the history of this specific pebble. Maybe it came from another planet or from another galaxy. Can you prove that this pebble has only existed for a finite number of years?
Norman: Well, according to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, there cannot be an actually infinite number of days or years that have elapsed in the past.
Bradley: But if you need the Kalam Cosmological Argument in order to demonstrate the first premise of your Thomist Cosmological Argument, then you don’t have two independent arguments. Both arguments in that case would depend on the key claim in the Kalam argument that an actually infinite number of days or years cannot have elapsed in the past.
Norman: I’m confident of the truth of that premise of the Kalam argument, so I’m OK with making the success of both of my cosmological arguments depend on that premise.
Bradley: We have been discussing various common and easily observable physical attributes. Aren’t there lots of other possible physical attributes possessed by this pebble? In addition to being composed of molecules and atoms, it is also composed of sub-atomic particles, like: quarks, leptons, and bosons. Perhaps one of the properties of one of the sub-atomic particles in the pebble is INFINITE.
Do we know ALL of the kinds of sub-atomic particles that exist in this universe? I doubt it. Do we know ALL of the various properties of the sub-atomic particles that are currently known to exist? I don’t think so. Given that we still have a lot to learn about sub-atomic particles, I don’t see how (at this point in time) we can be sure that no sub-atomic particles in this pebble have any INFINITE properties.
Norman: I’ll admit that there is probably much that we have yet to learn about the kinds and characteristics of sub-atomic particles.  But based on all of the ordinary physical properties that we are familiar with, which the pebble possesses in only finite amounts and degrees, and based on the properties of sub-atomic particles that we know about now, we should expect that new properties that will be discovered about the sub-atomic particles in pebbles, will also be possessed by the pebble in only finite amounts and degrees and NOT in INFINTE amounts or degrees.
Bradley: Perhaps all future discoveries about the properties of sub-atomic particles will be limited to properties that exist in only finite amounts and degrees, but we cannot know this ahead of time.  Since there still appear to be some mysteries to unravel in the world of sub-atomic particles, what about the possibility that this pebble has an INFINITE number of physical properties? I don’t see how we can be certain that the number of physical properties possessed by this pebble is a finite number.  Perhaps there is no end to the discovery of natural physical properties of this pebble.
Furthermore, since you believe that there is also a SUPERNATURAL realm, could it be that this pebble has some SUPERNATURAL properties, in addition to the natural physical properties it has? If so, then one of its SUPERNATURAL properties could be INFINITE.  Can you prove that this pebble has no INFINITE SUPERNATURAL properties?  Can you prove that you know ALL of the SUPERNATURAL properties that this pebble possesses?  I don’t think so.

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 2: Geisler’s Thomist Argument

I plan to analyze and evaluate Ed Feser’s Aristotelian proof of the existence of God (in Five Proofs of the Existence of God).  But first I want to analyze and evaluate Aquinas’s Unmoved Mover proof.  And before I do that,  I wanted to warm up by doing an analysis and evaluation of Peter Kreeft’s Unmoved-Mover proof, which I did in the first post of this series.
I could get started on Aquinas’ First Way (Unmoved Mover Proof) right now, but I think I will warm up a bit more by doing an analysis and evaluation of Norman Geisler’s version of a Thomist cosmological argument.   Geisler does not state his argument in terms of motion, nor does he say that he is re-stating Aquinas’s First Way or Unmoved Mover proof.  However, Geisler does indicate that the cosmological argument that I will be examining here is based on the cosmological arguments of Aquinas.
Geisler distinguishes between horizontal and vertical types of cosmological arguments. He categorizes the Kalam argument as a horizontal cosmological argument, and he categorizes four of Aquinas’s Five Ways as vertical cosmological arguments:

There are two basic forms of the cosmological argument: the horizontal or kalam cosmological argument and the vertical.  The horizontal cosmological argument reasons back to a Cause of the beginning of the universe.  The vertical cosmological argument reasons from the being of the universe as it now exists.  The former, explaining how the universe came to be, was championed by Bonaventure (1221-1274).  The latter, explaining how it continues to be, flows from Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274).  The first calls for an originating Cause, and the latter for a sustaining Cause.  (“Cosmological Argument” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p.160)

In the same article, Geisler summarizes four of Aquinas’s Five Ways, and then presents a more general cosmological argument that he thinks reflects “a basic form behind all of these arguments [by Aquinas]”.  Geisler provides such a generalized Thomist cosmological argument in his book When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).
In WSA, Geisler distinguishes two different types of cosmological argument, and gives one argument of each type.  He does not use the terms “vertical” and “horizontal”, but the distinction he makes in WSA appears to be the same one he makes in the above article, just minus the terminology:

There are two different forms of this argument, so we will show them to you separately.  The first form says that the universe needed a cause at its beginning; the second form argues that it needs a cause right now to continue existing.  (WSA, p.16).

The first cosmological argument Geisler presents in WSA is the Kalam cosmological argument, which asserts that the universe needed a cause at its beginning (a horizontal cosmological argument).  The second cosmological argument that Geisler presents in WSA asserts that the universe needs a cause right now to continue existing (a vertical cosmological argument).   So, it is reasonable to infer that the second cosmological argument in WSA is Geisler’s generalized version of a Thomist cosmological argument:

1. Finite, changing things exist.

2. Every finite changing thing must be caused by something else.

3. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes.

THEREFORE:

4. [There is]…a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.

(WSA, p. 18 & 19. I left out the text defending each of the premises; we will get into that later.)
Geisler draws one further conclusion from (4):

This argument shows why there must be a present, conserving cause of the world, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what kind of God exists. 

(WSA, p.19)

So, I take it that there is another key claim that is inferred from (4):

4. [There is]…a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.

THEREFORE:

5. There is a present, conserving cause of the world.

Geisler’s cosmological argument FAILS right off the starting line, just like Kreeft’s Unmoved Mover argument FAILED right off the starting line.  There is NO MENTION OF GOD in the conclusion of Geisler’s argument!
There is no mention of God in any of the premises, and no mention of God in the conclusion.  If a freshman taking Philosophy 101 turned in a paper that was an attempt to prove the existence of God, but provided the above argument,  I would give that paper an F, and that student would fail the course, unless and until the paper was revised so that the conclusion of the argument was this:

(G) God exists.

Geisler is a professor of philosophy, and he has published dozens of books in Christian apologetics and theology.  You would think that he could manage to produce arguments for God that had “God exists” as the conclusion.   This is not rocket science! This is Philosophy 101, or Critical Thinking 101.  Twelve of Kreeft’s twenty arguments for the existence of God, also do NOT conclude that “God exists”.  So, both Kreeft and Geisler are unclear on the concept that an argument for the existence of God should conclude that “God exists”.
We could repair Geisler’s obviously defective cosmological argument by adding a missing premise to his argument:

5. There is a present, conserving cause of the world.

A. IF there is a present, conserving cause of the world, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

G.  God exists. 

Now we can see the basic structure of Geisler’s argument:
There are a couple of reasons why I’m not sure that adding premise (A) is the best way to represent Geisler’s Thomist cosmological argument.  First, premise (A) seems obviously to be FALSE, so this re-construction of Geisler’s argument might be thought to be a Straw Man.
Second,  Geisler understands that none of his arguments show that “God exists”, given the ordinary meaning of that statement (i.e. There exists a bodiless person who is the creator of the universe, and who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, and eternally perfectly morally good.).
So, in WSA after Geisler presents five basic arguments, he then attempts to cobble his various arguments together into an overall case for the conclusion that “God exists”.  He fails utterly and pathetically at this attempt, but that is the general structure of his reasoning.  In short, Geisler’s case for the existence of God requires that ALL FIVE of his arguments be SOUND, so that he can use different arguments to show different divine attributes (e.g. cosmological arguments to show divine power and the existence of an eternal creator, an argument from design to show divine intelligence, a moral law argument to show divine goodness).
We can, however, alter the content of premise (A), so that it asserts a conjunction of the conclusions of Geisler’s other arguments, in order to more accurately represent his case for God:

A1.  There exists a very powerful creator of the universe, and there exists a very intelligent designer of the universe, and there exists a perfectly good moral law giver.

Premise (A1) is clearly a very strong claim, and we would be perfectly reasonable to reject this premise unless all of Geisler’s other arguments were solid.  So, if any of Geisler’s other arguments FAIL or have significant problems, then Geisler’s argument/case for the existence of God FAILS.
Geisler’s argument/case for God works only if ALL of his lower-level arguments are SOUND, only if both of his cosmological arguments (Kalam and Thomist), and his argument from design, and also his moral law argument are all SOUND arguments.  Note: Geisler also has an Ontological Argument, but he doesn’t use it to show the existence of a necessary being.  He uses this argument to show a conditional claim, something like this: “If there is a creator of the universe, then that creator is a necessary being”. This conditional statement plays a role in his overall case for God.
In the next post of this series I will evaluate Geisler’s Thomist cosmological argument, at least the part of it that supports premise (5).  I’m not planning to evaluate premise (A1), because that would require evaluating all of the other lower-level arguments Geisler presents in WSA.

bookmark_borderPeter Kreeft’s Case for God

KREEFT’S CASE FOR GOD

In September of 2017, I began to analyze and evaluate Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God in Chapter 3 of his book Handbook of Christian Apologetics  (co-authored with Ronald Tacelli).  In July of 2018, I finished examining his case for God, which consists of 20 arguments for God.
Here are three blog posts where I summarize my critique of Kreeft’s case:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/16/kreefts-case-for-god-summary-of-my-critique-part-1/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/26/kreefts-case-for-god-summary-of-my-critique-part-2/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/31/kreefts-case-for-god-summary-of-my-critique-part-3/
Here is an INDEX which provides links to my more specific blog posts on Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/13/index-kreefts-case-for-god/

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Case for the Existence of God

GEISLER’S CASE FOR GOD
In October of 2016,  I began to analyze and evaluate Norman Geisler’s case for God in his book When Skeptics Ask, and to present my criticism of his case in posts here at The Secular Outpost.

Over a period of several months, I wrote 18 posts focused on various phases and arguments in Geisler’s case.  In September of 2017, nearly a year after beginning to examine Geisler’s case, I wrote a 19th post summarizing a number of my key objections to his case:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/09/07/geislers-five-ways-part-19-whole-enchilada/
For a more detailed analysis and critique of Geisler’s case, or of a specific argument in his case, see the previous 18 posts in this series:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/25/index-geislers-five-ways/

bookmark_borderCritiques of Craig

I have previously criticized the case for the existence of God by the Christian philosopher Norman Geisler (When Skeptics Ask) and I have also criticized the case for the existence of God by the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft (Handbook of Christian Apologetics).
The next case for God that I plan to analyze and evaluate is the case by the Christian philosopher Edward Feser (Five Proofs of the Existence of God).

Assuming that Feser FAILS to prove the existence of God,  I will then move on to analyze and evaluate William Lane Craig’s case for God.  In anticipation of examining Craig’s case, I recently ordered three books that criticize Craig’s arguments for the existence of God:

Did God Create the Universe from Nothing (Onus Books, 2016) by Jonathan Pearce (forward by Jeff Lowder, and with contributions by James East and Counter Apologist).

Unreasonable Faith (Hypatia Press, 2018) by James Fodor.

The Case Against Theism (Springer International Publishing, 2018) by Raphael Lataster.

I have not read any of these books yet, so I cannot wholeheartedly recommend them yet.
However, James Fodor’s book not only covers Craig’s arguments for God, but also has a chapter on Craig’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus (my favorite topic): Chapter 5 (pages 231-334).  I had to take at least a quick look at that chapter.  I was delighted to read his initial analysis of “The Resurrection Hypothesis” on pages 322-324.  That part of Chapter 5 is, for me, worth the price of the book.
Fodor points out that Craig’s resurrection hypothesis REQUIRES assumptions about the desires (or purposes) of God (i.e. that God would have WANTED TO raise Jesus from the dead), and about the desires (or purposes) of Jesus (i.e. that Jesus would have WANTED TO appear to his followers after being raised from the dead).
I’m not sure where Fodor is going with the point about Jesus wanting to appear to his disciples, but the point about God desiring or wanting to raise Jesus from the dead is a crucial point, and it deserves to be given the emphasis that Fodor gives to it.
In my view, skeptics have failed to discuss or to sufficiently emphasize this point about miracle claims.  This point about the importance of God’s desires (or purposes) is one that the Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne rightly and repeatedly emphasizes in his case for God, and in his defense of the resurrection of Jesus.
Even if we can identify a particular event as having a supernatural cause, we cannot identify an event as having been intentionally caused by God apart from making some assumptions about the desires or purposes of God, for which we have no reasonable grounds.  This is, in my view, one of the most serious problems with miracle claims, and it applies directly to Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 2: Believe What You Were Raised to Believe

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here is an alternative way of answering this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

Although this may seem like an obviously UNREASONABLE way of answering this question, this is the way that almost everyone (or at least most people) initially forms political, religious, and ideological beliefs.
Usually, the parents of a child, if they raise the child together, share similar political and religious beliefs or share a similar worldview.  In that case, the child grows up and is socialized with those political and religious or worldview beliefs constantly operating in the background, and sometimes those beliefs are directly asserted or referenced by the parents.
In recent years marriage between two people who identify with a different religious group has become more common in the USA; nevertheless, about 60% of marriages in recent years are between people of the same religious group, and an even larger portion of marriages from previous decades were between people of the same religious group:

…almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Many of these recent interfaith marriages are between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated (sometimes called “nones”). Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one-in-five (18%) are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.

(“Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed” by Caryle Murphy, JUNE 2, 2015)
In the USA people who identify as Democrats and marry or live with a partner are usually married to or live with a Democrat, and people who identify as a Republicans and marry or live with a partner are usually married or live with a Republican:

While many Republicans and Democrats have politically diverse networks of friends, the vast majority of those who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner belongs to the same political party. Fully 77% of Republicans who are married or living with a partner – and an identical percentage of married Democrats – say their spouse belongs to the same party.

(Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016, June 22, 2016, p. 26)

By Capt. John Severns, U.S. Air Force - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8822138
Schoolgirls sit in the girls’ section of a school in Bamozai, near Gardez, Paktya Province, Afghanistan. The school has no building; classes are held outdoors in the shade of an orchard.

So, in the USA, children are usually raised by parents who share the same religion, and children are usually raised by parents who belong to the same political party.  (However, there is probably a large portion of children in the USA whose parents were EITHER of different religions OR of different political parties).
In the case that the parents of the child do NOT share similar political or religious beliefs, or do NOT share a similar worldview, then the child will have early exposure to opposing or alternative political or religious views, or to alternative worldviews.  In that circumstance, the child cannot simply accept what they “were raised to believe” because their parents influence them in different ideological directions.  The child could take sides, and adopt either one parent’s view or the other parent’s view (or adopt one parent’s religion and the other parent’s political party), and that would partially but not completely follow this approach.
If one’s parents do share a similar ideology or worldview, then there are some advantages to following this way of answering the question “Does God exist?”, especially while the child remains under the care and supervision of his/her parents.   Adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents makes it easier to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with, one’s parents.  It is generally a good thing to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with one’s parents, so adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents, can make one’s family life smoother and more enjoyable.
Furthermore, in some cultures and countries, it can be dangerous and even deadly to reject the ideology or worldview of one’s parents.  In a totalitarian country, for example, if one’s parents have drank the cool-aid and adore the dictator or the “dear leader” of their country, there might be risk of physical punishment or even death to openly oppose the beliefs and practices promoted by “dear leader”.  Sometimes, sacrificing one’s intellectual integrity and accepting the dominant ideology is necessary to avoid homelessness, starvation, prison or even death.
Also, not only do most of us initially form our political and religious or ideological beliefs based on what we were raised to believe, but there isn’t really much of an alternative to this, especially for young children.
Although I share Richard Dawkin’s concern about children being indoctrinated into Christianity or Islam or other religions, the ideal of individual freedom of thought and of freedom to explore a wide range of alternative ideologies and worldviews is NOT directly applicable to young children.
In order to be ABLE to rationally and intellectually analyze and evaluate an ideology or worldview, one needs to (a) learn how to read, (b) learn how to write, (c) learn how to reason, (d) learn some history, (e) learn some math, (f) learn some science, and (g) learn about different cultures, religions, worldviews.  This takes time.  This takes years of education.  A three or four-year-old child does not have the intellectual ability and the knowledge necessary to make reasonable judgments about alternative ideologies and worldviews.
I’m not opposed to young children learning about how to think rationally about political issues, religious issues, about ideological issues or worldview issues, but they need knowledge and skills to do this well, and the knowledge and skills they need take years for them to learn.  We cannot simply present a wide variety of worldviews to three or four-year-old children, and just let them loose to choose their favorite ideology or worldview.
Furthermore, the minds of young children would be too easily influenced and manipulated by teachers and other authorities, even if those teachers and authorities appear to be or try to be “objective” and “fair” in presenting the various alternative viewpoints.
However, we should do a better job of preparing children to take on this project of choosing an ideology or worldview or of creating their own ideology/worldview, so that when they are in high school and college, they can do a good job of rationally evaluating alternative ideologies and worldviews, and make good choices on these matters.
Setting the issue of young children to one side, is there any reason why teenagers or college-age young adults should take the approach of simply believing what they were raised to believe?  One problem here is that, assuming a teenager already has more or less adopted the religious and political views of one or both of their parents (or guardians), it does not seem possible for that teenager to simply let that point of view go and start all over with a blank slate.
We might want teenagers to have the freedom to explore alternative points of view, and we might want them to have good guidance as to how to do this kind of investigation in an honest, rational, logical, fair-minded, and well-informed way, but it seems psychologically and logically impossible to toss out all of one’s previous ideological beliefs and start from scratch.  Realistically, we can only question and challenge one or two aspects of one’s current point of view, because if we set aside our entire point of view, then we have no adequate basis for forming rational conclusions about any given religion or ideology.
But there are obvious problems with simply sticking with what we learned from mom and dad (or from mom and mom, or dad and dad).  First, many parents do NOT have well-thought-out and well-informed views on religion or politics.  If one’s parents both have PhDs in philosophy or comparative religion or political science, then maybe sticking with what mom and dad believed would not be a bad option, because their opinions (in the areas they have studied) are likely to be well-thought-out and well-informed.
But most of us are not born to such parents.  Some people have parents who have college degrees in literature or history or drama or engineering or biology, and those parents, though well-educated, might not have well-thought-out or well-informed views on religion or politics.  Some people are born to parents who did not graduate from college with any degree.  Some people are born to parents who only graduated from high school.  Some people are born to parents who never graduated from high school.  So, in simply adopting the views of one’s parent or parents, many people will be adopting views that were not well-thought-out or well-informed, at least not by their parents.
Another obvious problem with the believe whatever your parents raised you to believe approach is that alternative religious and political viewpoints contradict each other on many important points, so they cannot all be correct.  In other words, we can see from the start that MOST religions are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  We can see from the start that MOST political viewpoints are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  If there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, then if we all just follow in the footsteps of our parents, MOST of us will be adopting a FALSE religion, or a FALSE worldview, or a religion or worldview that contains a number of significant false beliefs.
On the other hand if there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, or a worldview that does not contain a number of significant false beliefs, then careful consideration of arguments and evidence will presumably help people to find or discover that religion or worldview.   So, at least potentially, people who are raised with very different religious or ideological or political points of view, could come to agreement about which religion or ideology or worldview is TRUE, because they could be pointed the same direction by examination of relevant evidence and reasoning.  If we all stick stubbornly to the beliefs of our parents, then human beings will remain divided and in disagreement on a number of our most basic beliefs and values.
The main objection against the use of arguments and evidence in the evaluation of religions, ideologies, and worldviews is that some believe that these are purely subjective ideas and values and thus that there can be no objective and rational way of determining that one religion or ideology or worldview is any better or “more true” than another.  If there is no such thing as objective truth in these matters, then I suppose that dogmatically sticking with the beliefs of your parents is no worse than some other arbitrary way of selecting a religion, worldview, or ideology.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 1: How Should We Answer this Question?

ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?” THROUGH PHILOSOPHY

How should we answer the question “Does God exist?” ?  Having studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Sonoma State University, and having studied philosophy as a graduate student at the University of Windsor, and then having studied philosophy for a number of years more at UC Santa Barbara, the way to approach this question seems obvious to me:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.


 
But, given that my educational background has been focused on philosophy, one might suspect that my view of this matter is a bit biased, and that other ways of arriving at an answer to this question should be considered before hopping onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, and spending a lot of time and energy learning about and evaluating philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.
 
One objection that has been raised against the philosophy of religion in recent years is that it is too focused on CHRISTIANITY.  There are many religions and religious worldviews that one could investigate and evaluate by means of philosophy and philosophical argumentation, but philosophy of religion has traditionally been focused on the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, to the exclusion of philosophical investigation of other religions and religious worldviews, and non-religious worldviews (such as Marxism and Humanism).
There are MANY different religions and worldviews competing for our allegiance, so it seems question-begging, narrow-minded, and sociocentric to focus all (or even most) of one’s time and energy on evaluation of basic beliefs of CHRISTIANITY.  What about Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? Taoism? and what about secular worldviews, like Marxism and Humanism?
I think this is a legitimate and significant criticism of philosophy of religion, as this sub-discipline of philosophy has been practiced in recent centuries.  However, if one is interested in the question “Is Christianity true?” there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.  And since the question “Does God exist?” is concerned with a basic Christian belief, there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.
Furthermore, the question “Does God exist?” has implications beyond the evaluation of Christianity and the Christian worldview.  Jews also believe in the existence of God.  Muslims also believe in the existence of God.  Some Hindus believe in the existence of God, and a number of Indigenous religious traditions (such as a number of Native American tribes) include a belief in the existence of God, or of a supreme being who has many of the characteristics of God as conceived of by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  So, the question “Does God exist?” is NOT purely and strictly a question about a basic Christian belief.  It is also about a basic Jewish belief, a basic belief of Islam, a basic belief of at least one form of Hinduism, and a basic belief of many forms of Indigenous religious traditions.
Another way of putting this point is that arguments for and against the existence of God are, in general, applicable to evaluations of not only Christianity, but also of Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and of a number of Indigenous religious traditions. If there is a solid argument for the existence of God, this would provide support not only for Christianity, but for many other theistic religious traditions, and if there is a solid argument against the existence of God, this would (in most cases) provide a good reason to doubt or reject not only Christianity, but also Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and many Indigenous religious belief systems.
In short, it is true that the philosophy of religion has tended to be focused primarily on the basic beliefs of the Christian religion, and has not paid much attention to other religions, nor to the non-religious worldviews that compete with various religious traditions for our allegiance; however, when it comes to the question “Does God exist?”, this is a question that the philosophy of religion is well-suited to help us answer.

OTHER WAYS OF ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?”

Before we all hop onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, let’s consider the alternative ways of answering the question “Does God exist?”.  Some people think they know about God’s existence through ordinary experience, and some people think they know about God’s existence through religious experience, and some people think they know about God through intellectual investigations outside of philosophy.
Here are ten common ideas about how one might answer the question “Does God exist?” apart from philosophical investigation of this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

4. Try praying to God, to see if God answers your prayers.

5. Try prayer, meditation, and worship, to see if you feel the presence of God or hear the voice of God.

6. Try reading the sacred texts of various religions, to see if you sense divine wisdom in any of them. 

7. Try experiencing nature and natural beauty, to see if you feel the presence of God that way.

8. Try experiencing and appreciating art, music, and literature, to see if you sense the presence or influence of God in those human artifacts.

9. Study human history, to see if you can discern the influence of God on human cultures and societies.

10. Study nature scientifically, to see if you can discern the handiwork of God in nature.

In Part 2 of this series, I will begin to consider and evaluate these alternative ways of arriving at an answer to the question “Does God exist?”  If you have any other alternatives that are widespread or that seem promising or interesting, please point them out in a comment to this post.

bookmark_borderArguments For God that are Arguments Against God

GOD AND CONFIRMATION BIAS

There is a theme in Jeff Lowder’s case for Naturalism:  the thinking of religious believers is often distorted by confirmation bias.  They look for evidence that supports their belief in God, but ignore, or forget, or fail to notice, evidence that goes against their belief in God.
When believers offer some reason or evidence for the existence of God, it is often the case that if you look a little closer at that evidence, or take a step back and look at the general sort of evidence or phenomena that an argument for God relies upon, you find powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God, evidence that was missed or ignored by religious believers.
I usually go into the details of the logical structure and interpretation of arguments for God, but in this post I will try to stay at a higher level, touch upon a few arguments for the existence of God, and point out how those arguments actually provide reasons or evidence AGAINST the existence of God.  (Perhaps readers of this post can contribute comments pointing out their own favorite examples of such arguments for God that actually point in the opposite direction).

 

THE ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN

Probably the most common and most popular argument for God is the Argument from Design.  There are various versions of this argument that could be considered, but let’s consider a simple version of it presented by Norman Geisler:

  1. All designs imply a designer.
  2. There is great design in the universe.
  3. Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe.

(When Skeptics Ask, p.20)
One of the most common objections to this argument is the problem of evil.  Sure there are some wonderful, beautiful, complex things and creatures in the world, but there are also some horrible, ugly, complex things and creatures in the world.  There is pain, suffering, disease, and disaster in this world.  So, if we take a general look at the natural world, we find not only pleasure, happiness, health, and stability, but also the opposites of these good things.
Death clearly existed BEFORE human beings arrived on this planet, so the sins or bad choices of human beings cannot be the cause of death.  Death was built into the natural world.  Pain and suffering also clearly existed BEFORE human beings arrived on this planet, so the sins or bad choices of humans cannot be the cause of all pain and suffering.  Predation clearly existed BEFORE humans arrived, so the bad choices of humans cannot be the cause of predation.   Diseases existed BEFORE humans arrived, so the bad choices of humans cannot explain the origin of disease.
If we are going to attribute the apparently-designed-characteristics of the natural world to the plans of a designer, we should attribute death, pain, suffering, predation and disease to the designer.  That means that IF this world is the product of a designer, then the designer must be either IGNORANT (less than all-knowing) and the evils of this world were unintended mistakes by the designer,  or MORALLY IMPERFECT (either evil or uncaring) so that the evils of this world were intended or foreseen by the designer.  Thus, the argument from design is an argument AGAINST the existence of God, because it is, at most, an argument for an IGNORANT or MORALLY IMPERFECT creator of the universe.  But God is, by definition, the creator of the universe, and God is, by definition, all-knowing and perfectly morally good, so the existence of an IGNORANT or IMPERFECT creator logically implies that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
I am not a big fan of Richard Dawkins, but he does make a good point against the argument from design:

Turning Watchtower’s page, we find the wonderful plant known as Dutchman’s Pipe…all of whose parts seem elegantly designed to trap insects, cover them with pollen and send them on their way to another Dutchman’s Pipe.  The intricate elegance of the flower moves the Watchtower to ask: ‘Did all of this happen by chance? Or did it happen by intelligent design?’…Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem.  Once again, this is because the designer himself (/herself/itself) immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin.  Any entity capable of designing a Dutchman’s Pipe (or a universe) would have to be even more improbable than a Dutchman’s pipe. … 

(The God Delusion, first Mariner Books edition, p.145-146)

Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?

(The God Delusion, p.147)
The mind of the designer must, according to the logic of the argument from design, be more complex than the design of the natural world.  But then, according to the logic of the argument from design, we must infer the existence of a designer of the mind of the designer of our natural world.  But God is by definition eternal and uncreated.  So, because the mind of the creator of our natural world MUST have been designed by some intelligent designer, the creator of our natural world MUST have been created.  But God is by definition the designer of our natural world AND also, by definition, eternal and uncreated.  Thus, if the designer of our natural world MUST have been created, then it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, since the designer of our world was himself (/herself/itself) created by another being.
So, there are at least TWO WAYS in which the argument from design proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, which is the opposite of what the argument was supposed to prove.
 

THE ARGUMENT FROM CHANGE

One classical argument for the existence of God comes from Aquinas.  Here is how Peter Kreeft summarizes the Argument from Change:

…if there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change.  But it does change.  Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe.  But the universe is the sum total of all matter, space and time.  These three things depend on each other.  Therefore this being outside the universe is outside matter, space and time.  It is not a changing thing; it is the unchanging Source of change.

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.50-51)
If we accept Kreeft’s assumption that God is the Source or cause of change in the universe, then this argument proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  This argument attempts to prove that the Source of change in the universe is a being “outside matter, space and time”, a being that is “unchanging”.  But God, according to the Bible and to the vast majority of Christian believers is a PERSON, a being who thinks, who communicates with humans, who makes decisions, who performs actions,  who creates things and creatures.
A thing or being that is “unchanging” cannot be a person, cannot think, cannot communicate with humans, cannot make decisions, cannot perform actions, cannot create things or creatures.  If God is a PERSON, then God is a being that CHANGES.  Thus, the Source of change in the universe cannot be a PERSON, but God is a PERSON.  Therefore, if Kreeft is correct that something is God only if it is both the Source of change in the universe, and if Kreeft is correct that the Source of change in the universe MUST be an unchanging being, and if something is God only if it is a PERSON, then it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  There cannot be something that is both an unchanging being AND a person.  Thus, the argument from change proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, which is the opposite of what it was supposed to prove.
 

THE ARGUMENT FROM DEGREES OF PERFECTION

Another argument for God from Aquinas is the Argument from Degrees of Perfection.  Here is how Kreeft summarizes this argument:

But if these degrees of perfection pertain to being, and being is caused in finite creatures, then there must exist a “best,” a source and real standard of all the perfections that we recognize belong to us as beings.

This absolutely perfect being–the “Being of all beings,” “the Perfection of all perfections”–is God.

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.55)
If this argument is correct, then God exists only if there is an “absolutely perfect being”.  One of the perfections of PERSONS is moral goodness.  So, given that God is a PERSON, God must have the perfection of moral goodness.  So, if this argument is correct, then God MUST be perfectly morally good, not just the morally best person so far, but so morally good that there could not possibly be a morally better person than God.
However, as Alvin Plantinga has argued, and as Richard Swinburne has concurred, there is no such thing as absolute moral perfection.  As Kant pointed out, there are some moral duties that a person can perfectly and completely satisfy, such as “Never tell a lie”, and there are also some moral duties that it is impossible for a person to perfectly and completely satisfy, such as “Give to the poor”.  No matter how much one gives to the poor (e.g. one million dollars), it is always possible to have given more (e.g. one million dollars plus one more dollar).
Thus, it is impossible for an absolutely perfectly morally good person to exist.  Therefore, based on the assumption that God exists only if an absolutely perfectly morally good person exists, it follows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.  The argument from degrees of perfection implies that God exists only if an absolutely perfectly morally good person exists, so the argument from degrees of perfection implies a claim that in turn logically implies that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
 

THE KALAM COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

There is an argument for the existence of God that Christian philosophers have borrowed from Muslim philosophers: the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Here is part of Peter Kreeft’s summary of this argument:

Now if the universe never began, then it always was.  If it always was, then it is infinitely old.  If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today.  And so an infinite number of days must have been completed–one day succeeding another, one bit of time being added to what went before–in order for the present day to arrive. …But an infinite sequence of steps could never have reached this present point–or any point before it.

So either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the universe began to exist.  

(Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.59)
The conclusion above that “the universe began to exist” is one of the key premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  But Kreeft’s reasoning above proves too much.  It proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
God, by definition, is eternal, which implies that God never began to exist.  But Kreeft’s reasoning proves that it is impossible for such a being to exist.  Let’s substitute “the creator of the universe” for “the universe” in Kreeft’s reasoning:

Now if the creator of the universe never began, then it always was.  If it always was, then it is infinitely old.  If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today.  And so an infinite number of days must have been completed–one day succeeding another, one bit of time being added to what went before–in order for the present day to arrive. …But an infinite sequence of steps could never have reached this present point–or any point before it.

So either the present day has not been reached, or the process of reaching it was not infinite. In other words, the creator of the universe began to exist. 

By applying Kreeft’s reasoning to the creator, we arrive at the conclusion that the creator BEGAN TO EXIST.  But God, by definition, never began to exist, and God, by definition is the creator of the universe.  But Kreeft’s reasoning shows that it is IMPOSSIBLE for the creator of the universe to be a being that never began to exist, thus it is impossible for something to be BOTH the creator and a being that never began to exist.  Therefore, Kreeft’s reasoning shows that GOD DOES NOT EXIST.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument proves that GOD DOES NOT EXIST, the very opposite conclusion to what it was supposed to show.