bookmark_borderHinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 3: More Objections

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 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
  • temporal
  • some aspect of being
  • eternal
  • 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.

bookmark_borderHinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 2: Objections to (11) and (1)

I. The Conclusion of the ABEAN Argument is UNCLEAR.
(ABEAN is an acronym for: “some Aspect of Being is Eternal And Necessary”, which is premise (4) of Hinman’s argument.)
The first thing that I look at when analyzing an argument is the conclusion of the argument.  Here is the conclusion of Hinman’s ABEAN argument:
11. Therefore, some people are warranted in believing in God.
This might not seem to be unclear at first glance, but the meaning of the phrase “believing in God” is indeed unclear.  One might think this means “believing that God exists”, but Hinman apparently does NOT believe that it is literally true that “God exists” (this is only metaphorically true in Hinman’s view), so this otherwise plausible interpretation of (11) is presumably incorrect.
The biggest problem here, though, is that Hinman defines the word “God” in a way that makes this concept completely unclear and obscure:
God: The transcendental signified, Universal truth at the top of the metaphysical hierarchy
If you want to make an already unclear concept even more unclear, then there is no better way to make things murky and incomprehensible than to go fishing around in the sewer consisting of the writings of the literary theorist Jacques Derrida.  If you aren’t familiar with Derrida’s notion of the “transcendental signified” don’t worry,  I found this brief and very helpful explanation that is sure to give you a firm grasp of this concept:
Upholding the notion of decentering, Derrida asserts that a “fixed” structure is a myth, and that all structures desire “immobility” beyond free play, which is impossible. The assumption of a centre expresses the desire for a “reassuring certitude” which stands beyond the subversive or threatening reach of any play which might disrupt the structure. The centre, that which gives stability, unity and closure to the structure, can be conceived as an “origin”, or a “purpose” — terms which invoke the notion of presence or logos that guarantee such stability and closure.
Now that we are all straight about what Derrida means by the “transcendental signified”, is anyone interested in buying a bottle of my Dr. B’s Amazing Elixir?  It cures baldness, AIDS,  acne, indigestion, and all forms of cancer, and I only charge $50.00 for an eight ounce bottle of it.  What a bargain, right?
I swear to GOB that I did not make up the above quoted paragraph.  You can read it for yourself on the LITERARY THEORY AND CRITICISM NOTES web page.  WARNING: The bullshit is so deep on that page, that you may want to put on a pair of hip waders before clicking on the link.
In short, I have no clue what Joe Hinman means by  the phrase “believe in God”.  I seriously doubt that Hinman has much of a clue either, and I would rather not immerse my mind into the raw sewage that spews out of the books and articles of many modern literary theorists, especially NOT those by Derrida.  So, the ABEAN argument as it stands is DOA.  It has no clear and intelligible conclusion.
The ABEAN argument is a FAILURE even before I examine any premises or any inferences in the argument. An argument cannot possibly FAIL any faster than this one has.
II.  Various Problems with Premise (1) of the ABEAN Argument
Since I have no clue what the conclusion of ABEAN asserts,  I’m just going to start from the start, and work my way through the argument, step-by-step, noting any problems I discover along the way.
The first premise of the argument, like the conclusion, is unclear, at least initially:
1. All naturalistic phenomena are contingent and temporal.
In a philosophical argument, when there is a premise of the form “ALL Xs  ARE Ys”, a premise that is a universal generalization, one needs to determine whether this is supposed to be an inductive generalization based on experience, or (alternatively) an a priori claim.  If it is supposed to be an a priori claim, then is it an analytic truth (like “All triangles have three sides”) or  some other sort of a priori claim (like a synthetic a priori claim)?  More on this point later.
All three concepts in this premise are unclear, at least initially: “naturalistic phenomena”, “contingent”, and “temporal”.
However, Hinman does provide a fairly clear definition of the characteristic of being “contingent”:
Contingency:  That which can cease or might have failed to exist.
The characteristic of being “contingent” contrasts with the characteristic of being “necessary”:
Necessity: That which cannot cease or fail to exist.
Here are standard-form definitions of “contingent” and “necessary”, based on what Hinman says about these concepts:


X is contingent IF AND ONLY IF either (a) X can cease to exist, or (b) X can fail to exist.


X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF either (a) X cannot cease to exist, or (b) X cannot fail to exist.

These two concepts are supposed to create a dichotomy, a set of two categories which are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive of all possibilities.  But Hinman’s definitions do NOT create a dichotomy.  That is because something can “fail to exist” that cannot “cease to exist”. (There may be other problems as well.  This is just the problem that I noticed right away.)
For example,  a four-sided triangle CAN “fail to exist” (since it is impossible for such a thing to exist), but a four-sided triangle CANNOT “cease to exist” (because it can never exist–not even for a fraction of a second–it can never cease to exist).  Based on Hinman’s definition of “contingent”, a four-sided triangle is “contingent” because it CAN “fail to exist”.  Based on Hinman’s definition of “necessary”, a four-sided triangle is “necessary” because it CANNOT “cease to exist”.  Thus, based on Hinman’s definitions, a four-sided triangle is BOTH “contingent” AND “necessary”.  Therefore, the categories of “necessary” and “contingent” do NOT constitute a dichotomy.  These two categories overlap each other; they are NOT mutually exclusive concepts.
The fact that something is contingent, therefore, does NOT imply that it is not necessary.  The fact that something is necessary, does NOT imply that it is not contingent.  Thus, even if I granted, for the sake of argument, that ALL “naturalistic phenomena” were contingent, that does NOT imply that no “naturalistic phenomena” are necessary.  Given Hinman’s definitions, these categories are NOT mutually exclusive, so the fact that something falls into one category does NOT exclude the possibility that it ALSO falls into the other category.
Hinman’s inference from premise (1) and premise (4) to the sub-conclusion (5) is logically invalid, because this inference ASSUMES that the categories of “contingent” and “necessary” constitute a dichotomy, that they are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive, but this assumption is FALSE, so the the inference to (5) is INVALID.
What does Hinman mean by the term “temporal”?  The category of “temporal” contrasts with the category of “eternal”.  Once again, it appears that Hinman takes these two concepts to be a dichotomy, to be mutually exclusive categories, and to be jointly exhaustive categories.
But Hinman fails to provide a definition of either “temporal” or “eternal”, so we have no reasonable way to determine whether these concepts really do constitute a dichotomy, or if Hinman is just as confused in this case as he was in the case of the false dichotomy between “contingent” and “necessary”.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  We should presume that Hinman is just as confused and unclear about this set of categories as we have seen him to be about the previous set of categories.  Unless and until he puts forward clear definitions of “temporal” and “eternal”, we should remain doubtful about the assumption that these concepts constitute a dichotomy, and thus we should remain doubtful about any inferences that Hinman makes based on either of these UNCLEAR concepts.
What does Hinman mean by the phrase “naturalistic phenomena”?  This phrase is obviously problematic and in need of clarification.  Hinman does discuss this concept, but does NOT provide a clear definition of this term.  What he says is summed up in this one sentence:
Thus I equate naturalistic with nature and nature with S/TC and phyiscal [sic] law. 
(S/TC  means: Space/Time Continuum)
The term “nature” is hardly much clearer than “naturalistic” and reference to the space/time continuum and physical law might provide a clue about what he means, but this is an inadequate clarification of a key concept in the argument.  Without providing a clear definition of this key term, I don’t see how anyone can rationally evaluate premise (1) as being true or false.
One might assume that because this sounds like other cosmological arguments, that this argument is based on an empirical claim, and that premise (1) is at least one of the empirical claims in this argument.  However, Hinman makes a comment that casts doubt on that reasonable assumption:
The very concept of nature is that of a contingent temporal realm. 
This comment comes very close to asserting that premise (1) is an analytic truth, and thus NOT an empirical claim.  So, Hinman needs to be clearer on this crucial point.  Is premise (1) to be interpreted as an inductive generalization based on experience? or is it an a priori claim?  If it is an a priori claim, then is it supposed to be an analytic truth? or some other kind of a priori claim?  This is yet another problem that makes premise (1) an UNCLEAR statement.  We need to know what sort of claim it is, in order to properly evaluate this claim.  But it is less than clear whether this is supposed to be an empirical claim or an a priori claim.
Premise (1) is hopelessly unclear and confused.  The meaning of the word “contingent” is clear, but is confused, because Hinman mistakenly believes that the categories of “contingent” and “necessary” constitute a dichotomy.  Because of this confusion, the inference from (1) and (4) to (5) is INVALID.  The meaning of the word “temporal” is unclear, because this is a problematic word that is left undefined.  The meaning of the phrase “naturalistic phenomena” is unclear as well.  Hinman makes an effort at clarifying the meaning of this phrase, but his effort falls short; he needs to provide a clear definition of this problematic phrase.  There is also some ambiguity as to the type of claim that Hinman intends to be making.  Is this premise an empirical claim or is it an a priori claim?
III. A Counter Argument from a Skeptical Point of View
Hinman has taken on the burden of proof, which is as things should be.  I made no promise to put forward an argument against the existence of God.  However, in reflecting on the ABEAN argument, I do have some thoughts that constitute an alternative way of thinking about the alleged “contingency” of the universe or of natural phenomena, so I’m going to give Hinman (and the other readers of this post) something to consider (and to criticize) other than my objections to his ABEAN argument:

1. A true explanation of an event requires a true claim of the form “A change in X caused a change in Y”.

2. The Big Bang can be thought of as an event, as “a change in Y”.

3. There is a true explanation for every event, including the Big Bang.


4. The Big Bang was caused by a “change in X”, by a change in something. (from 1, 2, and 3)

 5. God, if God exists, is eternal (meaning “God is outside of time”).

 6. Something can undergo change ONLY IF it exists in time.


7. God, if God exists, cannot undergo change. (from 5 and 6)

8. God caused the Big Bang ONLY IF God can undergo change. (from 4)


9. It is NOT the case that God caused the Big Bang. (from 7 and 8)

Another way of expressing basically the same point is that the mere existence of God is NOT sufficient to explain the coming into existence of the universe.  There must be an EVENT that caused the universe to come into existence.  If God caused the universe to come into existence, then God did this by creating the universe, by willing the universe to come into existence.  But “creating” and “willing” are activities that require God to undergo change.  So, God CANNOT be the cause of the coming into existence of the universe unless God can undergo change.
But Hinman’s concept of God, as with Norman Geisler and Thomas Aquinas, is that God is outside of time and completely unchanging.  Hinman’s God, and the God of Geisler and of Aquinas, does NOT exist, because their concept of God is incoherent, it contains a logical contradiction: “God caused the universe to begin to exist AND God cannot undergo change”.
There are many more premises and inferences to analyze and evaluate in Hinman’s ABEAN argument, and I’m fairly certain that I will not be able to get to all of the remaining premises and inferences in my next post on ABEAN.  I have agreed to limit myself to just two posts containing my initial objections to ABEAN, so I do not expect my critique to be comprehensive.  However, there are enough problems with just the conclusion and the first premise to sink this argument, so I expect that a second post will be more than enough to justify rejection of the ABEAN argument.