ABEAN Contains Twelve Statements
Although I cannot provide a comprehensive critique of Hinman’s ABEAN argument in just two blog posts (of reasonable length), I can at least briefly touch on each of the dozen statements in that argument.
[NOTE: ABEAN is an acronym that refers to the claim that “some Aspect of Being is Eternal And Necessary”.]
The statements in ABEAN are numbered (1) through (11), but there is an additional statement that Hinman should have made, but that he did not make clearly and explicitly. There is a little bit of text in brackets following premise (4):
There is a similar notation following premise (6):
The notation following premise (6) merely indicates an acronym that will be used as shorthand for the phrase “a Sense Of the Numinous”, a term that was already being used in premise (6). So, the notation following (6) does not assert anything or add anything to (6).
However, the notation following premise (4) asserts a substantive claim, which Hinman ought to have spelled out as a separate premise:
(A) The Ground of Being is identical with any aspect of being that is eternal and necessary.
The notation “[=GOB]” does NOT merely specify an acronym for a term already present in the argument; rather, it introduces a new and additional concept into the argument, a concept that is very unclear. Since premise (A) includes at least three unclear terms (“The Ground of Being”, “any aspect of being that is…”, and “eternal”), I judge this premise to be VERY unclear.
The ABEAN Argument is VERY UNCLEAR
The main problem with the ABEAN argument is that it is UNCLEAR. This is the same problem that I encountered repeatedly in my analysis and evaluation of Norman Geisler’s case for God in his book When Skeptics Ask. The problem is not so much that ABEAN uses false premises or invalid inferences. The problem is that nearly every claim in the argument is unclear, making it nearly impossible to rationally evaluate the argument.
In my view, ten out of the twelve statements that make up ABEAN are VERY UNCLEAR. Only one statement in ABEAN is clear, and there is one statement that is somewhat unclear (but less than very unclear). So, in my view, more than 80% of the statements in ABEAN are VERY UNCLEAR, and less than 10% of the statements in ABEAN are clear (only 1 statement out of 12). Given the prevalence of VERY UNCLEAR statements, it is reasonable to characterize the whole argument as being VERY UNCLEAR, and thus for all practical intents and purposes it is impossible to rationally evaluate ABEAN. As it stands, ABEAN is little more than a heap of words without much intellectual or philosophical significance.
If Mr. Hinman were to provide clear definitions for the many problematic words and phrases in his ABEAN argument, then it would be possible to rationally evaluate this argument, but I suspect that if he could have provided such definitions then he would have done so already. So, I’m doubtful that he will be providing clear definitions for all of the many problematic words and phrases in ABEAN.
Here is my view of the general unclarity of Hinman’s ABEAN argument (click on image below for a better view of the chart):
The unclarity that I based this chart on is the unclarity of the meaning of several problematic words and phrases:
- naturalistic phenomena
- some aspect of being
- the Ground of Being
- being itself
- a sense of the numinous
- God (Hinman has an idiosyncratic understanding of this word)
- the transcendental signified
- universal truth at the top of the metaphysical hierarchy
- believing in… (Hinman has an idiosyncratic understanding of this phrase)
The terms “necessary” and “contingent” are also problematic words, but Hinman provides fairly clear definitions of these two words, which in turn made it possible for me to evaluate the inference from premises (1) and (4) to premise (5) as being an INVALID inference (see Part 2 of this series). The one time that Hinman provides clear definitions, makes it clear that ABEAN is a bad argument. This is why, I suspect, that Geisler and Hinman are so unclear and fuzzy-headed when they argue for God. When they think and reason clearly, their arguments for God fall apart.
I judged premises (1), (2), (4), (A), (5), (7), (8), (9), (10), and (11) to be VERY UNCLEAR because they each contain at least two different unclear words or phrases, which Hinman failed to adequately define or explain.
I judged premise (6) to be UNCLEAR, but not to be VERY UNCLEAR, because of the use of the phrase “a sense of the numinous” in that premise. Given the subjective nature of that concept, it would be difficult for anyone to provide a clear definition of that phrase, and Hinman did make a brief attempt to provide some clarification of this term, but his attempt was inadequate in my judgment. As it stands, this phrase is too vague to allow one to make a rational evaluation of the truth or falsehood of premises (7) or (8) with any degree of confidence.
How Many Possible Interpretations are there of ABEAN?
The easiest sort of unclarity to fix is ambiguity. There are eight different unclear words or phrases used in ABEAN. (NOTE: some of the unclear words and phrases in the list above are not used in the ABEAN argument, but are used in definitions of terms.) Most of these unclear words or phrases have MANY different possible meanings, not just two. So, most of these unclear words or phrases have a more serious problem than that of being ambiguous between two alternative meanings.
But, for the sake of illustration, let’s assume that all eight unclear words or phrases each have only two alternative meanings. Let’s also assume that these words or phrases are consistently used with the same meaning in all premises where they occur. How many different possible interpretations of ABEAN would there be, based on those assumptions? There would be 2 to the 8th power different interpretations of ABEAN:
2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 16 x 16 = 256 Different Possible Interpretations
There are well over two hundred different possible interpretations of ABEAN if the unclear words and phrases in the argument each have only two possible meanings. But most of the unclear words and phrases have a more serious problem of unclarity than this, so it would not be unreasonable to estimate that there is an average of three different possible meanings for each of the unclear words and phrases. How many possible interpretations of ABEAN would there be on that assumption? There would be 3 to the 8th power different interpretations of ABEAN:
3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 9 x 9 x 9 x 9 = 81 x 81 = 6,561 Different Possible Interpretations
Given these two estimates of the number of different possible interpretations of ABEAN, it is reasonable to conclude that it is very likely that there are more than 200 but less than 7,000 different possible interpretations of ABEAN. So, I would need at least 200 blog posts to adequately evaluate all of the various possible interpretations of ABEAN. Not gonna happen. Wouldn’t be prudent. I have better things to do with my time.
One Premise in ABEAN is OK
I’m OK with premise (3):
3. Something did not come from nothing.
The wording and clarity could be slightly improved:
3a. It is NOT the case that something came from nothing.
I accept this premise as true, although I’m not entirely certain that it is true. I think it is based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and I’m inclined to accept that principle (i.e. “Every event has an explanation.”)
A Couple of Other Problems with ABEAN
I have many objections and concerns about ABEAN in addition to the basic problem of unclear words and phrases. But I will just mention two of those problems here. One objection concerns the statement that Hinman failed to make clearly and explicitly:
(A) The Ground of Being is identical with any aspect of being that is eternal and necessary.
Premise (4) asserts that “Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.” The word “some” is ambiguous here, just like the word “something” as used by Aquinas and by Geisler in their arguments for God. What premise (4) actually means is this:
4a. Some aspect or aspects of being are eternal and necessary.
There is no reason or justification given for limiting the relevant aspects to just ONE aspect. So, we have, yet again, an ambiguity in quantification that leads to confusion and illogical inferences. If there are many aspects of being, and if more than one aspect of being is eternal and necessary, then that casts doubt on premise (A). If there are multiple aspects of being that are eternal and necessary, then it is doubtful that we ought to identify “the Ground of Being” with that collection of aspects.
This is particularly the case if an “aspect” of being is an individual thing or event. The concept of an “aspect of being” is VERY UNCLEAR, so it is not at all obvious that we can rule out the possibility that individual things or events could count as aspects of being. Clearly, Mr. Hinman would NOT accept the idea that “the Ground of Being” is composed of various individual things or events (that would lead us in the direction of Polytheism or Pantheism), so the identification of “the Ground of Being” with “some aspect or aspects of being” might well turn out to be an incoherent claim, a claim that contradicts the implications of Hinman’s concept of “the Ground of Being”.
This is one more example that illustrates the need for clear definitions of problematic words and phrases such as “an aspect of being” and “the Ground of Being”. Without such definitions, we may well be stumbling over various logical errors and incoherent claims.
I also have a problem with premise (9):
9. GOB = God.
First of all, this premise needs to be spelled out in a clear sentence of English:
9a. The Ground of Being is identical with God.
Although Hinman fails to provide a clear definition of “the Ground of Being” or of the word “eternal”, I strongly suspect that by “eternal” he means “outside of time”, and it is clear that Hinman believes “the Ground of Being” to be “eternal”. Given these assumptions, it follows that “the Ground of Being” cannot change.
But God is a person, or at least a being with personal characteristics like “can think”, “can communicate”, “can make choices”, and “can perform actions”. But only a being that can change can have such personal characteristics. Therefore, given the assumption that “the Ground of Being” is something that is “outside of time” it follows that “the Ground of Being” is NOT identical with God. Premise (9) appears to be false.
So, premise (A) might well, for all we know, be an incoherent statement, and premise (9) appears to be false.