Adelaide Chapter

Why is there something rather than nothing?

October 6, 2013

Krauss Versus Craig

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Introduction

On Thursday 26th of September, Reasonable Faith Adelaide reviewed the “dialogue” between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss on the topic “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This dialogue was held on the 13th of August in Sydney.

William Lane Craig is the director of Reasonable Faith in the US and is a leading apologetics debater. He spoke at two functions in Adelaide via the City Bible Forum and many of us had the opportunity to hear him and meet him personally. However, his main activity in Australia was the series of “dialogues” with Lawrence Krauss.

Craig

Lawrence Krauss is a high profile New Atheist. He has spent a significant time in Australia and has appeared on Q&A on two occasions.

 krauss

There were 3 dialogues held in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Krauss chose a dialogue format rather than a debate. This enabled a highly interactive discussion that was quite volatile. For instance, in Brisbane Krauss launched a personal attack on William Lane Craig. He accused him of being a dishonest charlatan. He later softened his line a little and admitted that Craig was a gentleman who sincerely believed in his cause but still accused him of presenting deliberate distortions to bolster his arguments.

I highly recommend that you watch each dialogue and judge for yourself who the honest man really is. They are all now available from the City Bible Forum site at:

http://citybibleforum.org/city/melbourne-brisbane-perth-adelaide-sydney/news/videos-life-universe-and-nothing

The topic “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is closely related to Krauss’ most recent book “A Universe from Nothing”, which was reviewed by Mark Worthing on the 15th of August.

The dialogue format consisted of a 15 minute talk by each speaker followed by a discussion, moderated by Rachael Kohns, the presenter of “The Spirit of Things”, which is an ABC radio show.

Krauss’s Presentation

Krauss spoke first and his main points were:

  • Craig presents deliberate distortions
  • We are not the centre of the universe. There is no special place.
  • We live in flat universe, which has a total energy of zero. This suggests that the universe could come into existence from nothing without any “divine shenanigans”.
  • The Bible claimed that the universe had a beginning before science did. However, so did many other creation myths, so what is unique about the Bible? It is often claimed that the Bible is not a scientific book so why suddenly make a switch and claim that Genesis 1:1 is a scientific statement?
  • The fine tuning of the laws of physics is a source of fascination. However, a multiverse may explain the fine tuning and the fine tuning could be better. So the fine tuning is not evidence of divine design.

One of Craig’s commonly used arguments is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. He uses this argument to show that the cosmos had a beginning, which requires a transcendent cause by a necessarily existent being. One of the evidences to support a physical beginning is the Borde, Guth and Vlenkin (BGV) Theorem. In response, Krauss’s displayed the following personal email from Vilenkin:

Hi Lawrence,

Any theorem is only as good as its assumptions. The BGV theorem says that if the universe is on average expanding along a given worldline, this worldline cannot be infinite to the past. A possible loophole is that there might be an epoch of contraction prior to the expansion. Models of this sort have been discussed by Aguirre & Gratton and by Carroll & Chen…Jaume Garriga and I are now exploring a picture of the multiverse where the BGV theorem may not apply. In bubbles of negative vacuum energy, expansion is followed by contractionHowever, it is conceivable (and many people think likely) that singularities will be resolved in the theory of quantum gravity, so the internal collapse of the bubbles will be followed by an expansion. In this scenario,… it is not at all clear that the BGV assumption (expansion on average) will be satisfied… Of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

Alex

Krauss used this email to argue that the BGV theorem did not necessarily indicate a beginning. Krauss reused this email during the Melbourne dialogue.  In Melbourne Craig questioned Krauss on the missing bits indicated by the ellipsis markers. Krauss claimed that these were “technical bits”.

Subsequent to the dialogues, Craig wrote to Vilenkin, who supplied the full text of the email, as given below. The sections in bold are the “technical bits” that Krauss omitted.

Hi Lawrence,

Any theorem is only as good as its assumptions. The BGV theorem says that if the universe is on average expanding along a given worldline, this worldline cannot be infinite to the past.

A possible loophole is that there might be an epoch of contraction prior to the expansion. Models of this sort have been discussed by Aguirre & Gratton and by Carroll & Chen. They had to assume though that the minimum of entropy was reached at the bounce and offered no mechanism to enforce this condition. It seems to me that it is essentially equivalent to a beginning.

On the other hand, Jaume Garriga and I are now exploring a picture of the multiverse where the BGV theorem may not apply. In bubbles of negative vacuum energy, expansion is followed by contraction, and it is usually assumed that this ends in a big crunch singularity. However, it is conceivable (and many people think likely) that singularities will be resolved in the theory of quantum gravity, so the internal collapse of the bubbles will be followed by an expansion. In this scenario, a typical worldline will go through a succession of expanding and contracting regions, and it is not at all clear that the BGV assumption (expansion on average) will be satisfied.

I suspect that the theorem can be extended to this case, maybe with some additional assumptions. But of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

Alex

The missing bits don’t seem all that technical to me and they do throw a different light on Vilenkin’s views. A more extended record of the discourse between Craig and Vilenkin can be obtained from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem.

If you have been reading this summary carefully, you may have noticed that Krauss’s arguments are not particularly relevant to the topic. However, he did show a short video clip that explained how nothing is more complicated than previously thought. Craig subsequently provided a summary of Krauss’ claims about nothing, which I have listed below.

In 1922, William Hughes Mearns published the following poem.

The other day upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away

Mearns is guilty of calling nothing something. However, Krauss seems to be guilty of the opposite sin. He calls something nothing; and this was the main thrust of Craig’s argument.

Craig’s Presentation

“Nothing” is not a different type of something. It is “not anything”. However, Krauss defines something to be nothing. Here are some quotations from Krauss:

  • There are a variety of forms of nothing, they all have physical definitions
  • The laws of quantum mechanics tell us that nothing is unstable
  • 70% of the dominant stuff of the universe is nothing
  • There is nothing there, but it has energy
  • Nothing weighs something
  • Nothing is almost everything

The above quotations were almost identical with Krauss’s video clip. They all illustrate that Krauss is being misleading in his use of the word “nothing”. In all instance his use of nothing is really something, whether it be a quantum vacuum or quantum mechanical systems.

Craig further supported Krauss’s misrepresentation of nothing with a quote from “On the origin of everything” by David Albert, a philosopher of science.

Vacuum states are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff…the fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings…amount to anything even remotely in the neighbourhood of a creation from nothing. Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right.

See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 for the full text.

Craig then presented Gottfried Leibniz’ argument for the existence of God based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason:

  1. Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1 and 3).
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2 and 4).

I suggest you watch the video to see how Craig supported this argument.

Discussion

The interesting part of the discussion was on Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument. The central point of discussion was premise 2, “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” During Craig’s talk, he had presented arguments to support premise 2. Krauss’s question was, “If there is an explanation, why does it have to be God?” More importantly, what type of explanation are we talking about? Is it a causal explanation or is it about purpose? This is extremely important to the argument and Craig was about to explain. However, at this stage, Rachael (the moderator) was obviously out of her depth and so interrupted the argument with a silly question about aliens. So, all was lost and now we will never know. Thank you Rachael.

Conclusion

Some of the discussion was confusing and difficult to follow. In all 3 dialogues the discussion was hindered by Krauss’s frequent interruptions and shouting over the top of Craig to prevent him from completing his explanations. However, in my opinion one observation was clear from the Sydney dialogue. Krauss is equivocating in his use of nothing. He is confusing something with nothing to argue how the universe could arise from nothing, when it is really something. He has conceded that it is likely that the physical cosmos has a beginning, but has not in reality provided any explanation for its origin or the reason why it exists. Science attempts to explain how the physical world can be transformed from one physical state into another. However, it always presupposes a prior physical state. To explain how the physical world can arise from absolutely nothing is inherently beyond the scope of physics. That is what “meta-physics” is all about.

Kevin Rogers

Miracles, Weeping Statues and Aliens

September 15, 2013

Miracles, Weeping Statues and Aliens

This is a summary of Brian Schroeder’s talk on miracles, presented at Tabor College on 12 September 2013. The video recording is available on You Tube. His power point slides are available at Miracles.

Purpose/Aim

There are people who believe in miracles and people who don’t. There are people who want to believe in miracles and people who want to disbelieve in them. Many others – both denying and supporting ‘miracles’ – have come before me and produced much greater and more thorough efforts than me. (eg. see Kevin Rogers’ article on the RFA website).

The purpose of this article is to:

  • demonstrate that non-belief in miracles is a philosophical decision, not a rational or scientific one
  • define what “miracle” is
  • promote rational scepticism – a guarded open mind
  • differentiate between atheist and Christian apriori rejections
  • demonstrate the belief in miracles is perfectly rational

I will not look in detail here at specific Biblical miracles. My aim here is to promote rational thinking, to show that a proper examination of the evidence (and of the accounts of witnesses) is reasonable, rational and worthwhile. If miracles are real they can stand rigorous examination. If the are not then they need it. The claims, ramifications, and evidence are great enough that they deserve it and leave no basis, wishful thinking aside, for simply burying heads in the sand and chanting the mantra ‘miracles don’t exist’.

Issues

  • Are miracles possible?
  • Can miracles happen?
  • Have miracles happened?
  • Do miracles happen?
  • What exactly is a miracle?
  • What do we mean by the word?

What are Miracles?

Are they:

  • Something that cannot happen?
  • The least probable explanation for any given event?
  • A happening contrary to the laws of nature?
  • A highly unlikely good event (eg. winning the lottery)

Chambers Concise Usage Dictionary

  1. Something which man is not normally capable of making happen and which is therefore thought to be done by a god or God: Christ’s turning of water into wine was a miracle.
  2. A fortunate happening that has no obvious natural cause or explanation: It’s a miracle he wasn’t killed in the plane crash

David Hume

Of Miracles” is the title of Section X of David Hume‘s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748).

Hume starts by telling the reader that he believes that he has “discovered an argument […] which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion”.

Hume first explains the principle of evidence: the only way that we can judge between two empirical claims is by weighing the evidence. The degree to which we believe one claim over another is proportional to the degree by which the evidence for one outweighs the evidence for the other. The weight of evidence is a function of such factors as the reliability, manner, and number of witnesses.

Now, a miracle is defined as: “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” Laws of nature, however, are established by “a firm and unalterable experience”; they rest upon the exception-less testimony of countless people in different places and times.

“Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happens in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.”

As the evidence for a miracle is always limited, as miracles are single events, occurring at particular times and places, the evidence for the miracle will always be outweighed by the evidence against — the evidence for the law of which the miracle is supposed to be a transgression.

There are, however, two ways in which this argument might be neutralised. First, if the number of witnesses of the miracle be greater than the number of witnesses of the operation of the law, and secondly, if a witness be 100% reliable (for then no amount of contrary testimony will be enough to outweigh that person’s account). Hume therefore lays out, in the second part of section X, a number of reasons that we have for never holding this condition to have been met. He first claims that no miracle has in fact had enough witnesses of sufficient honesty, intelligence, and education. He goes on to list the ways in which human beings lack complete reliability:

  • People are very prone to accept the unusual and incredible, which excites agreeable passions of surprise and wonder.
  • Those with strong religious beliefs are often prepared to give evidence that they know is false, “with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause”.
  • People are often too credulous when faced with such witnesses, whose apparent honesty and eloquence (together with the psychological effects of the marvellous described earlier) may overcome normal scepticism.
  • Miracle stories tend to have their origins in “ignorant and barbarous nations” – either elsewhere in the world or in a civilised nation’s past. The history of every culture displays a pattern of development from a wealth of supernatural events – “prodigies, omens, oracles, judgements” – which steadily decreases over time, as the culture grows in knowledge and understanding of the world.

Hume ends with a new theme: the argument from miracles. He points out that many different religions have their own miracle stories. Given that there is no reason to accept some of them but not others (aside from a prejudice in favour of one religion), then we must hold all religions to have been proved true — but given the fact that religions contradict each other, this cannot be the case.

(Wikipedia Article: “Of Miracles”)

Refuting Hume

According to the naturalistic view of the age and size of universe – human observations are minuscule in comparison (both time and space), negligible Þ not relevant. Thus Hume’s definition of natural laws coming from “the exception-less testimony of countless people in different places and times” is rather suspect.

Looking at the assumption that a miracle is something that is contrary to the laws of nature (David Hume) – how do we know?
We can define a law of nature as a repeated observation that something always happens the same way. For example, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. But just because we have never observed something different does not of itself make that something different impossible.

The Fremantle Football Club has never been known to win an AFL premiership. Does that mean it is contrary to the laws of nature for them to do so? That it would be a miracle (ie. an impossibility) for it to happen? “Maybe” you may think. But none of us truly believes that. Even if they never win a premiership, we still believe it is naturally possible for them to do so.
Similarly, according to our observations dead people are not resurrected. That observation by itself is not proof that it cannot happen. It could be that it simply requires a specific set of (natural) circumstances for it to happen.

Another problem with Hume’s argument is that if any ‘miracle’ IS proven to have occurred then, according to his definition, it automatically ceases to be a miracle and becomes an intrinsic part of ‘nature’. Thus his argument distils down to: Anything that is impossible is impossible; anything that cannot happen will not happen. A tautology we can all agree with whole-heartedly. It is, however, meaningless and fails completely in its purpose.

Atheist Miracles

Despite all that, atheists believe in miracles too. According to Hume’s definition, the following examples are miracles:

  • “big bang” – once-only, unobserved creation of everything from nothing – all by itself and contrary to the laws of physics (ignoring attempts by some to redefine “nothing”)
  • spontaneous generation of life from non-life
  • the ability of randomly generated aggregations of matter to develop consciousness with the capacity to observe and reason validly
  • quantum mechanics – “spooky” action at a distance. Schrödinger’s cat… ? ERP Paradox
  • The greatest believed miracle: a material impersonal random non-rational universe created itself out of absolutely nothing and then, through totally random unthinking means created personal thinking rational sentient beings able to make sense of it all.
  • That the random arrangements and movements of material objects (eg. electrons, atoms) are able to provide objective trustworthy truth.
  • That there is actually believable meaning in our existence from all this.

If ‘miracle’ is the least likely explanation of any given phenomenon, then if the only available explanations are all miracles – the least unlikely miracle would seem to be the logical choice. Creation by an intelligent personal being seems the best such option.

Trusting our faculties

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion.” (CS Lewis – Miracles). Which leads to the obvious question: What basis do we have to trust our senses on anything?

So after viewing some optical illusions we face the question: what basis do we have to trust our senses on anything? From a purely naturalistic point of view – none. “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” ? J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds

Scepticism

Scepticism is a good thing! The problem with most sceptics is that they limit their scepticism to a collection of their pet hates or personal biases. They rarely, if ever, question their own pre-suppositions. It is important that we question everything. That doesn’t mean we never accept anything, but it does mean we have good reason for what we believe, that we are less likely to get taken in by scams, less likely to be swayed by every glib-talking charlatan, “every wind of doctrine”, …

Sceptics criticize those who choose to believe in God because they (desperately) want a God to believe in; who cling to their belief despite all evidence to the contrary; who will not consider the evidence; who will not countenance any challenge to their deeply held beliefs/position/dogma.

Personally I agree. That is simply not a good enough attitude, or basis for anything. BUT most sceptics seem to cling to their position in exactly the same way. They so desperately want their beliefs/position to be true that they refuse to honestly consider the evidence.

In any society there are prevailing dogmas which one must believe, and which being sceptical of can be dangerous and bring swift retribution. Eg. (1) 14th century Europe: Christianity; (2) 20th century Iran : Islam; (3) Us here and now: global warming, evolution; etc.

It is important to recognize and acknowledge that we all have incomplete knowledge & evidence.

Christian De-mythologising

Some theologians have been convinced by the naturalists that miracles are simply not possible. They have therefore created a new theology to conform to that belief by ‘de-mythologising’ the Bible. Thus any miracle recorded there must be interpreted in some other way – eg.

  1. fiction with a moral,
  2. a later insertion by someone wanting to “sex up” the story,
  3. Primitive superstition from people who didn’t know better.

Unfortunately the Christianity they are left with bears little resemblance to historical Christianity, and contains very little to differentiate it from pure naturalism. It thus poses the question : On that basis, why associate themselves with such a religion? Why call/consider themselves Christians?

Apriori rejections

Atheists (and others) dismiss out of hand any possibility of miracles. They refuse to even consider the evidence. “Why waste time and effort on something when there is only one possible outcome anyway?”

Christians tend to take offence at such an attitude, But – What about:

  • fairies at the bottom of the garden?
  • “The Great Pumpkin”
  • Easter bunny?
  • Perpetual motion:
  • Horoscopes?

Are we any different? It is very important to examine our motives and our reasons. The approach of many (most?) Christians is no more valid than that of atheists, based on unthinking unexamined biases (whether or not those biases be true or false is another matter, and requires proper examination.) An open mind combined with proper scepticism is needed. (‘guarded open mind’)

False Miracles

There have been many false claims from both ‘Christians’ and others. Some have been outright frauds, some genuinely believed. Eg.

How on earth do they know it is Mary? How do they know what she looks like? Etc.

(Mostly of Mary – Why? If it is of God then why not Jesus? Good questions!)

Miracles and Magic

Any god we can control is, to some extent at least, acceptable. The big problem with the Christian God (and Muslim and Jewish) is that he wants to be in charge. He thinks he is God! And we can’t handle that.

The difference between miracles and magic is that miracles are done by this divine being who acts as if he is in charge. Magic, so we believe, is done by ‘me’, under my control, as I choose.

For Miracles the power resides in God. For Magic, the power resides in me.

Miracles are always presented as being good (even, for example, the plagues of Egypt are presented as an exercise of justice and the gracious offer of salvation). Even in popular thinking: ‘It is a miracle he survived the plane crash’. ‘It is a fluke he was killed in that freak accident’ – only the good is a miracle. Magic can be good or evil (“black magic”?) because it comes from the human heart. And “magic always comes with a price” – Once Upon A Time (TV series) – comes with a sting in its tail.

Magic, ESP, psychic powers, etc. are similar in nature to miracles, and so official scepticism is very high. But since they are believed to be intra-universe (if real) then the imperative to deny or debunk them is less. Thus some genuine scientific attempts to study these have been made.

Christians and Magic

God is Spirit (“Spirit” – not nebulous and less than real, but a whole other dimension > physical existence) {consider the analogy of 4D beings in a 3D world}

Christians also believe that God created other spirit beings, some of which rebelled against God. Like sceptics, Christians believe that magic is not a part of this naturalistic universe, and so, if it exists, must be due to the actions of these malevolent spirit beings.

Aliens

It is those who are most eager to find extra-terrestrial life who seem to be the most opposed to believing in God or in any sort of supernatural. They are so keen to define man as the measure of all things. They are at the forefront of the fight for equality – animals, the sexes, homosexuals, the disabled, and so on.

How would they feel if we discovered real aliens and they turned out to be genuinely superior to us in every way? Intelligence, strength, knowledge, wisdom, skill, appearance. Would ‘we’ worship them: Try to drag them down to our level? Try to destroy them? Fight to be accepted as equals, despite not being? Live in denial? What? How would they cope?

UFOs

Many people believe in UFOs – spacecraft piloted by aliens who come to visit our planet. There are stories and pictures (always blurry, never clear) of such incidents. Most such cases can be easily explained away (eg. weather balloon, meteorite). Some people, however, refuse to believe the simple explanations and continue to insist aliens are real and that official denials are just a cover-up. All this is despite the fact that according to the best physics at our disposal, if aliens DO exist they would/could never come here.
Do Christian (and other) claims of miracles fall into the same category?

Christians and Aliens

Christians who believe that God created the universe and us in it would readily accept that such a God could also have created other beings on other planets. However for various reasons not worth discussing here we consider such a possibility HIGHLY unlikely. According to all we know of science (incomplete as that is), one inter-stellar alien visit would be impossible, thousands on a regular basis even more so.

Still, Aliens if they do exist are a part of this naturalistic universe. So once again they do not present so significant a challenge to the sceptic. In fact the whole idea of aliens, despite their incredible unlikelihood, has so gripped popular imagination that SETI has garnered plenty of support, and anything that can be even vaguely interpreted as pointing to aliens is eagerly grasped at.
Aside from the general belief in aliens and UFOs, there is also a very small, but not insignificant, group of people who claim to have been kidnapped by aliens for various purposes (strangely, such people all seem to belong to so-called “western” nations – esp. USA – where alienism has a cult following – in contrast to belief in ‘miracles’ supposedly being predominant in primitive cultures). Not every such report, however, can be dismissed as insanity, hallucination, drug-induced, deliberate deception, or the like. Christian belief in malevolent spirit beings (as applied to magic above) would then be appropriate here too.

Miracles, God, Christianity

Performance magic (ie. illusions created by performers) appear impossible; appear to be magic; but that is only because we don’t know the trick, how it was actually done. Similarly miracles which appear to violate (what we think are) the laws of nature may just be so because we don’t know what is actually happening behind the scenes.

Note: this does not in any way deny the miraculous nature of the ‘event’, merely the claim that it is contrary to ‘the laws of nature’ and thus that it is unreasonable/unrational/wrong to believe that they can/do/may occur.

If you define ‘miracle’ as something that cannot happen, then miracles don’t happen. Simple. But that’s not what people mean by the word. A ‘miracle’ is generally considered to be a rare event (irrespective of the probability), a good event, and something requiring external input of some sort – where “external” => beyond the control of anyone involved.

If God exists, he may or may not perform “miracles”. Ie. He may or may not intervene to alter the course of events such that they are (noticeably) different to what would have happened anyway. BUT if miracles are real, then this implies that God must be also (since miracles come from God).

Just as atheists cannot countenance ID – irrespective of the evidence – because it implies an intelligent designer, so miracles must be rejected because they imply a (supernatural) miracle worker. Thus if your position is that “God does not exist” – that being one of the basic apriori assumptions on which your world view is built – then miracles MUST be rejected out of hand, no matter what the evidence.

Even one genuine miracle is enough to obliterate the foundation of everything you believe in, causing the entire structure of all you have built to collapse. Since this cannot be allowed, miracles must be denied no matter what.

 “Miracle” in the Bible

The Greek words translated “miracle” in our Bibles are ??????? and ??????? (dunamis and s?meion). These are generally translated as “power” and “sign” respectively. Thus what we call miracles were then considered to be acts of power, and/or signs to verify the status or claims of the one displaying them. Thus a miracle is something that would not or could not happen by itself in the normal course of events but requires the input of power from some external source. Similarly we have countless examples of things that require the input of power to happen – whether it be the conversion of small hard corn kernels into big fluffy pop-corn, enabling us to see when it is dark (electric lights), or the sending of men to the moon – contrary to the scientific law of gravity. So a miracle is no more contrary to the laws of nature than any of these ‘normal’ things, it simply has a different source for that input of power.

If God exists (in a theistic sense), then it stands to reason that he would take an interest in his creation (unlike a deistic god) and involve himself in it. It also stands to reason that a God sufficiently powerful to create the entire universe from nothing is not lacking in the where-withal to tweak things here or there. It is also perfectly possible that we may be totally unaware of much of what he does. (Whether or not such a God exists is another subject entirely. I am merely postulating here how such existence would outwork itself if true.)

Some interventions (tweakings) may be apparent to human observation. Some may even correspond to or follow human intercessions or requests. We may call these miracles.

Why he would do some things and not others we may think are equally or even more worthy we do not know. But we do know that his grasp of the big picture must be incomparably greater than ours (by definition), and that he always does what is right and best (see my previous discourse on Good and Evil for more info).

Examples

Multitudes of claims exist world-wide; some written up. Some are very doubtful, some highly credible, some extensively documented. Just because “you” claim to have never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I personally believe in many things I have never seen (eg. Moscow, Grand Canyon, neutrons, …).

Examining Miracles

According to Stephen Jay Gould the “non-overlapping magisteria” of science and religion must be kept distinct. Miracles would fall into the realm of religion and thus are a valid topic for religious discussion, but should be excluded from any empirical or rationalistic study since they are not a part of the real or material world in which we dwell. Just as fairies (or orcs and elves) may be a valid topic of discussion in literature circles, but not in history or science circles.

Related to this are the claims of the effects of prayer, since prayer is clearly a request to a deity. One problem with the idea of running ‘live’ studies is that it assumes ‘we’ can control God (assuming he exists) with our prayers. But if God is truly God then we can never control him. Consider Aslan in CS Lewis’s “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” – “He is not a tame lion. But he is good!” He is mighty and powerful, and does whatever he pleases.

However Candy Gunther Brown has ignored Gould’s view, and found ways to overcome the inherent problems to conduct successful and rigorously valid clinical trials that have shown much more significant results than expected from such a study. Her book, published by Harvard University Press is called “Testing Prayer, Science and Healing”.

Miracles and Coincidences

Some ‘miracles’ are not so much considered miraculous by their nature as by their timing or high degree of unlikelihood. (Eg. In “Vanya” – story of soldier granted leave contrary to all expectations). Consider the Biblical plagues of Egypt – All of these can be explained naturally (eg. see Immanuel Velikovsky “Worlds in Collision” – I am not endorsing his work, merely using it to demonstrate the possibility) – but for them to happen as and when they did with perfect timing verges on impossibility.

Thus some miracles are dismissed as merely coincidences. And the basic principles behind so doing are generally valid. Christians who believe in miracles also acknowledge readily that many unlikely events that take place are in fact genuine coincidences. Coincidences are real. None-the-less there are definite situations where the circumstances point so clearly to an external influence that, aside from apriori assumptions that this is not possible, “miracle” is clearly the best and most reasonable explanation.

Summary / Conclusion

  • If God does NOT exist and the material universe is all there is, then no matter what the evidence, miracles do not exist / are not real. They are merely natural phenomena which we do not (yet) understand. This is, however, begging the question and assumes the conclusion. (especially since, if true, we have no basis whatsoever to place any faith at all in our abilities to so determine.)
  • If God DOES exist then it stands to reason he has every right and all necessary power to influence/affect/engage with his creation in any way he sees fit.
  • Any such action would be in keeping with the natural order, laws which he created, and not “contrary to the laws of nature”. But, clearly, it would also result in a different effect than if he had not so acted – just the same as when any of us does anything.
  • This is thus (a) an exercise of power and (b) a sign to us of his existence and involvement.
  • Thus for anyone prepared to honestly and with guarded open mind to properly examine the evidence, belief in both miracles and the miracle worker is rational, reasonable, and easily the best interpretation and conclusion.

Postmodernism

September 10, 2013

Post Modernism

Often, Christians are concerned about the dangers of “postmodernism”, while still being unsure what it actually means. On 29 August 2013 Matt Gray took us through the core aspects of postmodernism, including where and how they emerged. This included the high scholastic debates of the middle ages, through to the angry anti-imperial protests of the early 1990s.   A central issue in the discussion is how much of our culture is actually POST modern? What was so bad about modernity that people would want to move away from it? What about modernity are they moving away from? And how much of this cultural phenomena is a movement AWAY from modernity, and how much is it the ultimate fulfilment of modernity’s promises? Is it not POST modernity, but HYPER modernity?   In exploring these questions, we start to understand the cultural underpinnings that uphold many of the conversations we have in our society today, including apologetical discussions, such as sexuality, technology, and relativism.

mgray

Matt is one of Adelaide’s main thinkers on integrating Christian history into contemporary life. He has a wide grasp of the Christian story, and seeks to apply it to the individual Christian’s discipleship, and to the mission of the Church as a whole. In his teaching, he has a reputation for passion, humour, relevance and practicality. He is currently doing a PhD in history with Adelaide University; is a senior member of the missional Christian community of Glen Osmond Baptist; and regularly writes for an apologetics magazine online.

His talk was video recorded and is available on You Tube. The text of his talk can be accessed from Postmodernism PDF. See also his Power Point Presentation on Postmodernism.

Gay Marriage

August 25, 2013

On the 1st of August Chris Jolliffe talked on Gay Marriage.

The video recording is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoslZWa12uE.

A number of Chris’s sources came for the  Saving Marriage site. These include:

See also:

The Bible on Homosexuality by Chris Jolliffe

How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships by Mark Regernus

Note: This issue is highly controversial. The above sites represent Chris’s views. For each of the above links there are numerous counter arguments. These can be easily found by Googling the subject title. If you want to get a good feel for this subject then you should research the counter arguments as well.

 

 

Hell Summary

July 23, 2013

Hell Summary

This is a very brief summary of the talk given by Peri Forester on the subject of Hel at the Reasonable Faith meeting held on the 18th July 2013. See Hell Transcript for a full transcript of the talk.

In our RF group we talked about Christian understandings of hell.  We identified three main streams of understanding about the nature of hell:

1. Unending torment;

People are immortal or are universally given immortality in the resurrection and then those separated from God in the judgment exist without him forever: which is hell.

2. Torment ending in non-existence;

People are mortal, though all are resurrected for the judgment. Those separated from God in that judgment then die the second death (hell) which is painful in proportion to their actions and attitudes, but which comes to an absolute end as nothing can survive without God.

3. Universal salvation.

Hell is a warning or a temporary punishment only and ultimately all people will be saved and live in relationship with God.

More attention was given the debate between position one and two based on the Scriptures and on key words related to hell in the scriptures (hell, sheol, hades, death, perish, destroy). The fact that the notion of hell is not a particularly Christian one was highlighted and ‘hell’ motifs from other ancient and medieval mythologies were considered, especially to examine where they have been ‘canonized’ in the thinking of some Christian traditions even where the Scriptures are not in support of those motifs.

The talk was pretty long and detailed and you can read the whole thing if you are interested.

At the end of the talk those present put a sticker on a three way continuum graph to represent the views of the group.  Most in the group tended to agree with the tradition of unending torment though there were quite a few stickers placed along the line towards a conditional immortality opinion and a few in that corner.  There was also one sticker off the chart in that direction indicating an atheist view in which absolutely everyone is mortal and there was one sticker in the Universalist corner.

If you were there, where would you have put your sticker?  Why?  Have you thought about it?

 

Peri Forrester

Hell – Transcript of Talk

July 23, 2013

Hell

This is the transcript of the presentation given by Peri Forester on the subject of Hell at the Reasonable Faith meeting held on the 18th of July 2013. See the corresponding Power Point slides – Talk about Hell.

SLIDE ONE

Why talk about it in a ‘reasonable’ way?

Because in the absence of thought-through discussion, unexamined images dominate, which can lead to a misrepresentation of Hell and the God who warns us about it – or even a total denial (cf Dickson, 2007:86). In my case since I can’t deny that Jesus talked about hell – I have felt compelled to think the issues through.

Of course I am just one Christian believer limited in all sorts of ways and so I share what I have found over the last few months which overlays my reading of Scripture over the years since I became a Christian with the appropriate acknowledgment of my limitations.

SLIDE TWO

The two objectives of tonight’s talk are to:

Outline the three main traditions of understanding concerning Hell within ‘Bible believing’ Christianity and their plausibility structures through their respective interpretations of Scripture. (In many of our discussions here at Reasonable Faith we do not refer much to the Christian Scriptures, and nor do we assume them as necessary for the arguments we make – our epistemology is often that of the so called Enlightenment reason and empiricism rather than authority or special revelation. However, in this topic what we are looking at is what it is reasonable for a Christian to believe about Hell – we are not trying to arrive at truth about hell from human reasoning apart from the Bible and therefore we use hermeneutics/biblical interpretation rather than some other kind of science or logic is our means).

Touch on the ways that imagery, which often side steps the normal expectations about truth telling, have the power to suppress truth and even debase communication about emotive topics such as salvation and its opposite if we don’t learn a kind of critical literacy of images and multimedia. I don’t think this second objective is fully met in what I have prepared, but we make a start.

SLIDE THREE

As per usual for our RF meetings, after I present my talk we will have tea or coffee and snacks followed by a forum for open discussion on the topic. Hopefully it will be warm but not too fiery.

SLIDE FOUR

  • Briefly review the three main paradigms
  • Discuss the meanings of key words used in the bible
  • Read some Scriptures highlighted in the debate and review how they are interpreted
  • Very briefly review the history of the idea of hell
  • Review a critique of the recently released video as an example of how multimedia can be used to side step truth telling standards and communicate deceptions powerfully.

I also need to say that I am not here trying to justify what I assume God will do with the unsaved – though that comes up and we can talk about it more after the break – rather I am trying to tune my 21st c. ear to what God is saying through the 2 or more thousand year old Scriptures, which, as is often noted, were not written in systematic text book ways.

SLIDE FIVE – Summary of the three paradigms

The three understandings about hell – that is the judgement and final state of those who reject God in this life (‘the unsaved’ without also in this talk entering into debate about who is included in that group) are the:

  • Traditional Augustinian or Calvinistic view of the unending conscious torment of the unsaved
  • The annihilationist or conditional immortality view in which the unsaved cease at some point to exist, and
  • The Universalist view that ultimately all are saved.

I found a useful diagrammatic representation of these views on the internet at a site called “Rethinking Hell”:

 

SLIDE SIX – Traditional

The traditional view as it is called on our triangle is the view that the unrighteous will suffer forever and ever. The traditional view is that they will suffer physically by the active infliction of corporal punishment from God, as said Augustine (Crocket, 1996:46), and the modified view (since Calvin for eg Crocket1996:44) , and to me much more plausible one that they will suffer mental, or psychological suffering that is intrinsic to their separation from God. Billy Graham said of hellfire “I have often wondered if hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire we can never quench”. Proponents of the literal view, though, such as Jonathon Edwards and Charles Spurgeon were still found after the Reformation (ibid).

This traditional view almost always assumes the immortality of the human soul.

Sometimes the ethical charge is raised that if God allows suffering for ever and ever, he is immoral because no finite sins committed in time warrant everlasting conscious torture.

One answer to this charge is that sinners go on sinning in hell, and are being punished for ever for new sins. Carson suggest this response: “perhaps we can think of hell as a place where people continue to rebel… so he [God] continues to punish them” (Carson, 1990:91).

Another view is that Hell’s door is locked from the inside such that it is the sinners themselves who perpetuate hell (as CS Lewis says), and

Another that we just don’t see yet how punishment-worthy sin really is.

None of these answers fully satisfy me, I must admit, but as I have said, at this point, I am simply looking to understand what Scripture says.

SLIDE SEVEN – Conditionalism

Conditionalism or annihilationism is the view that, like the animals, people are mortal, not immortal, and so apart from God they naturally die in the sense that they cease to exist. Biblical conditionalists will acknowledge that there is a general resurrection – that this is a special act of God, but that while those in Christ go to life, those judged against in the eschatological judgment do not survive the second death; that is without Christ their being cannot be perpetuated and they are annihilated in the lake of fire.

The question for the conditionalist to deal with is what to do with biblical texts that talk about everlasting punishment. Their answers do satisfy me except for two texts – one from Genesis and one from Revelation. In those texts I can accept the answers provisionally, but only because everything else works in that paradigm as I see it.

SLIDE EIGHT – Universalism

Universalism is the belief that ultimately all are saved. Universalism treats ‘hell’ as purgatorial – that is reformative. Suffering is disciplinary. Either that, or it is a warning only.

There is a kind of universalism which is also pluralistic in the sense that it denies the uniqueness of Christ’s atonement and says all religions are straining equally for the same thing – that is heaven/God (however they are imagined to be), but there is also a ‘Christian’ version of universalism which does acknowledge the unique atonement of Christ but argues in various ways that by him all will be saved. This is, in a sense a Calvinistic stance, where the elect is simply everyone.

So what of all the warnings about hell – well these are just warnings. I guess this is a bit like the parent who says if you don’t stop making that noise I am going to kill you (even though they won’t).

For example Karl Rahner says: “What scripture says about hell, in conformity with the eschatological discourses, is not to be read as an anticipatory report on something that will happen sometime, but as unveiling the situation in which the man who is addressed truly finds himself now” (in Blotcher 1992:p290).

I can’t believe it myself; though to be honest because of that I have not given the arguments as much of a fair hearing as I have the other two.

Definitely I want to give universalism more attention in the future, especially as I want to understand the winds of teaching at the more popular level on the internet – where universalism is growing in acceptance and influence – wrongly I think.

SLIDE NINE

Now at this point in my path of seeking after truth, as I said, I have come to discount Universalism as a possible Bible based Christian option, (though I’d be happy to find in glory that I was wrong on that, (though if Pol Pot is there I hope he has had more than one moment of tormented remorse getting in)) and so my research has led me more into the debate between conditionalism/ annihilationism and the traditional understanding of hell. If we look at the triangular diagram again and think of it as a continuum, at this point my opinion would be about here: (place sticker on chart). Just before we go to our break I am going to ask each of you to place a sticker on here as well and we will thus graph the beliefs of the group here tonight. So you can be thinking about where you will put your sticker as I talk.

SLIDE TEN

Let’s take a CLOSER LOOK AT KEY TERMS which will help us evaluate the arguments.

There are a number of words where the interpretation is important to the discussion and debate about hell including:

  • Hell;
  • Sheol;
  • Hades;
  • Aionios;
  • Death;
  • Perish and
  • Destroy

Core to interpretation, as it may readily be pointed out, are grammatical relationships and textual contexts (Osborne 2006:82). However, looking at the words, and the meanings they are said to hold is a good start – especially words that come up again and again and form a theme in Scripture.

SLIDE ELEVEN – Hell

Looking again at the triangular diagram of the three paradigms, notice that the subtitle for the title “hell” here is “three views of final punishment” and, of course, in common contemporary usage the word hell is used as a shorthand way of saying just that. But the history of the word is very relevant to the discussion as it is closely related to the development of the understanding people had about final judgement and punishment and helps us to know what was in Jesus’ mind when he used the word.

Many of you will know that the word hell comes from Gehenna, which is itself the Aramaic translation of a Hebrew place name: Hinnom. The place is a valley near Jerusalem, south of the city of David, which by Jesus’ day(s) had long had an association with evil and death. This place was where straying Israelites, influenced by Canaanite practices (which as an aside evidences that both a remnant of the Canaanite people and their religion survived the clearly incomplete genocide of Joshua), had sacrificed their children to the god Molech during apostate periods of their history (2 Chron. 28:3, 33:6; Jer 7:31; 19:2-6). (READ JER 7:30-33).

As an image therefore, Gehenna (hell) elicited horrific if ill-defined Anti-Yahweh associations (Witherington, 2010:35). Further to those associations there is archaeological evidence that during the time of Jesus that valley, Gehenna – Hell – was a literal garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Into Hell was thrown refuge both wet and dry and including the bodies of those not granted a dignified burial – such as executed criminals (this seems in keeping with Jeremiah’s prophesy of judgement that I read before). Hell, the dump, would have been continually, or at least often enough to be thought of as continually burning because incineration was the common method of disposing of rubbish in the ancient near east. No doubt in other places where vegetation, corpses and other wet rubbish was rotting maggots would have been present (Witherington 2010:35).

This was the kind of hell that Jesus said sinners were in danger of being thrown into by the one who had power to destroy both body and soul (Matthew 10:28). (Notice, as an aside that Jesus says body and soul – he distinguishes between them; in Hebrews 4:12 it also says the word of God is able divide soul and spirit.) But when Jesus said they would be destroyed in hell,

  • did he mean that such a place of fire and maggots would be the residence of the dammed forever and he used the metaphor of Hell, as in Gehenna simply as a picture of the ultimate undesirable residential location, or,
  • did he mean that God would dispose of the unrepentant forever as irreclaimably, unredeemably as a person who threw an unwanted possession into such a foul rotting burning unclean rubbish dump, or
  • was he saying only that God could do such a thing, not that he actually would (hell as warning in the present not as history of an actual future) or
  • Was he saying that a temporary stay in such a place may bring people to a better mind as some universalists think?

Answering these questions about what Jesus and his followers meant literally when they allegorically referred to the valley and fires of Gehenna usually involves discussion and controversy about the usage of the Greek word aionios often translated into the English as everlasting or eternal (Fudge1994:11). For example Matthew 25:46 “and these [who gave no water to the thirsty etc] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life [in the separating of the sheep and goats]”. Traditionalists will argue that everlasting means for ever and they seem in the example just used to have plain sense on their side, especially when there is a parallelism between the punishment and life. Conditionalists will agree that the punishment lasts forever but say that while the judgement is final and the contempt for the ‘goats’ here referred to ‘lives’ on eternally as a fact of history, the second death ensures that these who are thrown away into a rubbish dump won’t be conscious forever. Death may be the opposite of life but it is not its equal opposite, and this seems just as plausible.

Aionios is used of many temporary things in Scripture, for example mountains are said to be everlasting, but actually they only exist for a very long time, the ordinances of OT law were everlasting, but actually they came to an end, as did Solomon’s everlasting temple (Fudge, 1994:12,13). Like a lifetime guarantee, the specifics of how long forever is are moderated by the inherent capacity of the thing referred to. Universalists may say the punishment lasts only as long as it does though the people last forever, Conditionalists that the punishment lasts forever but the people last only as long as they can under such God-forsaken conditions.

Jesus was not the first to use Gehenna (Hell) as a picture of condemnation. The association developed during the Inter-Testamental (IT) period and so how it was used then is relevant to the scholarly debate as a place of punishment for eg in 1 Enoch 27:2 it says “This accursed valley is for those who are cursed forever; here will be gathered together all who speak with their mouths against the Lord… and here will be their place of Judgement” (cited in Toon1986:31)

SLIDE TWELVE

Sheol

Where we read of “hell” in the Old Testament we are reading translators association of the IT and NT period’s Gehenna with the OT period’s Sheol. But the two are not fully identical; they are connected only in that they both refer to the place of the dead. Sheol, however, is a place of diminished sensorial perception, not like the heightened experience of burning in either a literal or metaphorical sense. At a basic level Sheol was just where the dead are and often the word in the OT, where it is not translated as hell, is translated simply as the grave.

Especially in the earlier OT times the rewards of godliness were understood in this-worldly terms – the godly were rewarded with a long and full life in this world; there was some sense that those who die join their ancestors in Sheol, but speculation about what that meant was minimal – though, as time went by, the sprinkling of hints at life after death became more defined and by the end of the OT period we have Daniel speaking of the resurrection (Johnston, 2002:225).

The faith of the psalmists that surely God would not just let them stay in the grave resonates deeply with the beginning of my faith, the background of my openness to a Christian conversion.

Anyway the development of hints throughout OT history is as John Blanchard points out in keeping with the progressive revelation of God. (1993:35).

Hades

Hades was the god of the underworld in Greek mythology, and later the underworld was also called Hades (Fudge 1994:127).

SLIDE THIRTEEN – Aionios (everlasting or eternal)

Aionios is a Greek word which has a qualitative and a quantitative sense – that is, it refers to quality and quantity. It is closely related to aeon, which means ‘age’ as in the current age and the age to come. As we saw before the Greek word aionios, which translates as eternal or everlasting, has as its modifier the capacity of the noun it describes. We don’t need to read this from Conditionalists, traditionalists like John Blanchard (READ 1993; PP240 – 241 OR 242). 241,242

SLIDE FOURTEEN – Death, Perish & destroy

Fudge argues that death means what it seems to mean in a usual sense – cessation and extinction – “It is deliberately said both that the soul dies (judges 16:30; …) that it is destroyed or consumed (Ez. 22, 23, 270, and that it is extinguished (Job 11, 20). The conditionalist understanding of what death means fits most of the literary contexts of Scripture beautifully, except the Genesis fall narrative. (READ BLANCHARD 1993: 55). So is it that biblical death means separation? Fudge, a conditionalist seems to agree but nuances/ spins it differently (READ FUDGE. 1994:42,43).

“[From in conditionalist faith] says the OT uses 50 different Hebrew verbs to describe the final state of the wicked and notes that they all signify different aspects of destruction”… never that of immortal life in endless suffering (Fudge,1994: 47)

I found it interesting that about natural life and death Ecc 9:5 says “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten”

What of the second death? In conditionalist thinking this is extinction, in traditional thinking the final and full separation from God, however, somehow with sustained existence from God. We will look at this when we look at Revelation 20.

SLIDE FIFTEEN – Key Scriptures

Of course we have already referred to the scriptures in looking at key terms but now we will do the reverse, having examined what the words mean, we will look at a few of the Scriptures that are important to the debate. There are others, and after our break we can talk about any you like.

SLIDE SISTEEN – Genesis 6-9 (flood – example of judgement)

Gen 6:5-8 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.

21-24 And all flesh died… Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing.

“Sometimes words such as perish, destroy or die may be metaphorical or figurative [in the case of the flood, however] there is no doubt of their meaning. In this example of the end of the world, these terms clearly mean literal death” (Fudge 1994:54)

Jesus (Matt 24:38; Luke 17:26, 2 Peter 2:5,9; 3:3-7) used the flood as an example of judgements in time and as a picture of end times judgement (Fudge, 1994: 53,54).

Fudge used this event as an example of how to interpret words like perish p54

SLIDE SEVENTEEN

Genesis 19:24:29 (burning of Sodom – example of judgement)

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven… So it was … God destroyed the cities of the valley.

This is where fire and sulphur becomes associated with judgement. The fire God destroys Sodom with is eternal fire (Fudge, 1994: 121, Jude 7)

When Isaiah foretold the judgement and everlasting ruin of Babylon, Sodom was the example (Is 13:19-22; Jer 50:49). Jude 7 uses it as example of end time punishment, as did 2 Peter 2:6. This is where the idea of a stick snatched from the fires of judgement came from (Amos 4:11; Jude 23)

SLIDE EIGHTEEN

Isaiah 66: 24 (worm not die – torment, quoted by Jesus Mark 9:48)

24 And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh”

The unquenchable fire and undying worm are two of the main images of everlasting (aionios) torment. These can easily be understood as referring to an un-consolable condemning conscience. (Blotcher, 1992:306). Henri Blotcher, a traditionalist, talks about remorse in agreement with God; he argues that sin cannot continue in eternity (the age to come) and the everlasting torment of those condemned will be their agreement, too late, with the judgements of God. This makes it impossible to justify everlasting torment for finite sins by saying that sinners go on sinning in eternity (as D. Carson suggests 2006: 91); but it does make it easy to see how the judgement will be absolutely fair, as the more evil a person’s actions and attitudes were in life, and the more opportunities they had to repent, the more they will agonise over their realization too late when they finally see it God’s way. The pain that God now feels for the world in sin, will belong then fully and only to the sinner.

This resonates deeply for me – it seems very plausible that this is qualitatively just how it is, but I do wonder if in the absence of God the person so thrown to hell will not cease to exist. It seems if we are taking this text metaphorically as a psychological fire and worm (quality), we cannot switch to literalism on the point of how long forever is under such circumstances (quantity); even more especially given the way the word aonious is modified by its semantic context can we not make that switch.

In my youth I suffered panic attacks and other such things – I can assure you that although they clearly ended, whilst having one, the moment could be said by a passionate expressive person, not concerned with systematic theology, to be forever.

Fudge the conditionalist, it may seem strange, interprets this text more literally than the modern proponents of everlasting metaphorical fire, such as Blotcher, assuming that Isaiah had a literal referent in time that God had impressed him with as a picture of final judgement (Fudge, 1994: 62-63).

SLIDE NINTEEN

Daniel 12:2 (everlasting shame and contempt)

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

That both the saved and the lost are resurrected is confirmed here.

There is also no need to doubt that unrepentant sinners feel shame at the judgement, but that they are held in contempt for ever by the saved does not necessitate their never ending existence, only the eternal legacy.

SLIDE TWENTY

Luke 16 :19-31 (the rich man and lazarus – torment)

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’. 25 But Abraham said ‘child remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus bad things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’. 27 And he said ‘then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – 28 for I have five brothers – so that he may warm them, lest they also come into this place of torment’. 29 But Abraham said, ‘they have Moses and the Prophets; let them here them’. 30 And he said, no father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent’. 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

If this must have as its point that hell is everlasting torment, then it perhaps also needs to be the traditional view of corporal sensorial pains – such that a literal finger dipped in water might help.

We have here a division in Hades – such as was conceived of during the IT time. Notice that it is Hades and not Hell that Jesus refers to. The story was not a Jesus original, but a retelling of a popular story going around in both Palestine and Greek Egypt – “The basic plot was well-known folklore” a (Fudge, 1994: 127). Jesus was, and still is allowed to borrow such common stories to make his point, and when he does his point rather than the stage set of the story is what would have come into view for his original audience.

The point is the five brothers – Jesus is saying that if they will not repent of their selfish greed when they have the OT “in their hands” and the poor man at their gate, then they won’t repent ever. “Hades” is just the theatre set. The crisis point is whether the Pharisees Jesus was addressing “who were lovers of money [and] heard all” [the things Jesus had been saying about not being able to serve two masters] Luke 16:10-18, were any better. (cf Fudge, 1994: 128).

SLIDE TWENTY ONE

Mathew 25:31-46 (the sheep and the goats – exclusion)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink, or see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and cloth you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not cloth me, in prison and you did not visit me’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

What stands out? (Fudge p125).

SLIDE TWENTY TWO

Revelation 14:9-11 (no rest day and night – torment)

“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “if anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night”

Now this sure sounds like conscious everlasting torment. There are some conditionalist explanations I have read but none were compelling.

SLIDE TWENTY THREE

Revelation 20:10, 14-15 (lake of fire = second death)

“And the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they were tormented day and night forever and ever…

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Blanchard (1993) argues that the lake of fire means the “awesome, holy, avenging presence of God (P228), but then he also argues that it is the final separation from God. Not that I want to discount a view simply because of a linguistic contradiction – but it does seem intuitive to me that separation from God cuts off the blood flow, as it were, and nothing can exist long without blood – that is the sustaining of God.

The lake of fire is the Gehenna hell, (not the hades) of the NT – traditionalists and Conditionalists agree.

SLIDE TWENTY FOUR

In one sense I am not satisfied with what I have been able to do in this presentation tonight because, while I have been able to dig in far enough to be able to share with you the lay of the land in the contemporary debate based on the Scriptures – particularly between conditionalism and the traditional view of everlasting torment, I have not been able to share with you as much of the contemporary debate at the more popular level as it is fought out on YouTube, and the like, or of the discussion about hell as it has run through and beyond church history. Also in what we have discussed I have given more attention to Scriptural interpretation issues than to more overarching philosophical questions such as the extent that Greek thought influenced the development of Christian understandings or whether Roman politics did. Given time limits I thought that the first thing was to look at the discussion as it is gathered around the Scriptures.

I would like to touch on those other two areas by reading a short passage from a book; and by reading sections of a critique of the newly released Hellbound video which joins the great wave of media out there in support of Universalism currently. If you are willing to hear me again I would like to come and talk again, next time getting more into those popular discussions building on the Biblical background we have talked about tonight.

Consider origins of belief in hell in Klassen, 2001: 62. We can note here that retribution fits our inbuilt sense of justice – I noticed on the news recently that one of the three victims released from captivity at the hands of a rapist (among other things he was a rapist) after ten years of abuse said on TV that she could let go and move on knowing that God would judge the man that did that to her. This makes sense, it is intuitive and I think is reflected in the common theme of judgement running through the religions. So we don’t need to pretend that vengeance is not part of the Gospel: that the man who abused you, or the economic system that oppressed you, or the ruling powers that destroyed your village will not get away with it but be judged with the fury and wrath of God is part of the Gospel. So long as it is proportionate, this seems only right. That there is an amnesty for the repentant because of Jesus; well that is amazing saving grace. When the punishment is disproportionate though, it seems to me to pervert the Gospel and some understandings of hell do seem disproportionate no matter how you look at it.

SLIDE TWENTY FIVE

OK lastly I want to very briefly talk about a video that has just come out: “Hellbound”. We will first watch a trailer.

Stirring isn’t it. This stuff is our apocalyptic genre – it is emotive, visual and makes you think you have seen and heard things you have not. What do I mean?: well the video, which it is reported promotes a universalist doctrine satirises the beliefs in the Augustinian tradition of understanding about hell by juxtaposing talk about the difficulties of challenging unexamined beliefs with a preacher who is strongly rebuking a congregation. These images and the way they are arranged are saying something – they are saying something in very strong terms, namely that traditionalists are unreasonable and become aggressive if very reasonable questions are asked – but, if the critique I’ve read is right they lie because the passionate preacher is not rebuking his audience for questioning the preacher’s assumed traditional view about hell at all – he is rebuking them for mistreating their wives.

This is not to say it is only Universalists who do this – it is just to say we need to be wary of this kind of sleight of hand, most especially to avoid doing it ourselves, and of course to avoid being deceived by those who do. Now to avoid unfair comment myself I should point out I was not able to get a hold of a full copy of the video and so I report this only from an online review.

OK, now before we go to the break please come and put a sticker on the triangle to indicate where you currently stand on “hell”; that is your opinion. As I said before we are leaving out all these nuances of devils but not people burning forever and the like and so where you place your sticker back from the corner of the position you hold indicates how sure or unsure you are about it, not some technical mid point opinion.

As the kids say at the end of their talks – thanks for listening.

References

Blanchard, J. (1993), “Whatever Happened to Hell?” Evangelical Press: Durham.

Blotcher, H. (1992), ‘Everlasting punishment and the problem of evil’, in Cameron, N. (ed.) “Universalism and the doctrine of hell”, Paternoster Press: Carlisle.

Carson, D. (2006), “How long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed.” IVP: Nottingham

Dickson, J. & Clarke, G. (2007), “666 and all that, The truth about the future”, Aquila Press: Sydney.

Fudge, E.W. (1994), “The Fire that Consumes, The Biblical case for conditional immortality”, Paternoster: Bletchley.

Klassen, R. (2001), “What does the Bible really say about Hell? Wrestling with the traditional view”, Pandora Press: Telford.

Johnston, P.S. (2002), “Shades of Sheol, Death and the Afterlife in the Old Testament”, IVP: Downers Grove.

Osborne, G. R, (2006), “The Hermeneutical Spiral, A comprehensive Introduction to Biblical interpretation”, IVP: Downers Grove.

Toon, P. (1986), “Heaven and Hell, A Biblical and Theological overview”, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville.

Witherington III, B. (2010), Revelation and the End times. Unraveling God’s message of hope”, Abingdon Press: Nashville.

 

 

Kant’s Critique of the Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God

July 11, 2013

Kant’s Critique of the Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God

This is a summary of the presentation given on the 4th of July. Unfortunately we were not able to video record the meeting. However, there were power point slides (see Kants Critique).

1         Kant for Dummies

When I was a young engineer, a senior manager at the Electricity Trust told me, “If you really understand something, then you can explain it simply”. I believe this is largely true. So, I am going to attempt to provide a simple explanation of Kant’s Critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Unfortunately the converse does not apply. If you explain something simply, this does not necessarily mean that you really understand. Anyway, here we go.

After reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the German Lutheran Pietist J. G. Hamann wrote “If it is fools who say in their heart there is no God, those who try to prove his existence seem to me to be even more foolish.” However, are Kant’s arguments correct and was Hamann right in his assessment? In fact, Kant’s arguments have not been universally accepted. So, at the risk of being a fool, I will reconsider Kant’s arguments and assess whether it is sound and valid to argue for the existence of God.

So, what were his arguments, are they valid, are they relevant to contemporary arguments and how do they affect the scope and usefulness of arguments for the existence of God?

1.1       Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a major philosopher during the period of the Enlightenment, which is a supposedly anti-Christian movement. However, Kant is not necessarily anti-Christian. He was brought up in a devout Lutheran family and never rejected that faith. Although he is famous for having launched a critique against the traditional arguments for the existence of God, he still believed in God. In fact he believed that atheism was dangerous to society and also developed an argument for the existence of God based on morality as outlined in his Critique of Practical Reason. Thus we can consider Kant’s critique as “friendly fire”. His intent was to clarify the limitations of the traditional arguments so that their claims were not overstated.

Immanuel Kant

During the Enlightenment the 2 major epistemological movements were rationalism and empiricism. The chief originator of empiricism was John Locke, who believed that all of our knowledge came through the senses. Rene Descartes was the father of rationalism. Descartes’ aim was to gain certain knowledge from a foundation of indubitable beliefs and to derive certain conclusions from that foundation using “Pure Reason”.

1.2       Critique of Pure Reason

Kant’s major work was the Critique of Pure Reason (1787). Kant was primarily an empiricist and his critique was an attempt to unite empiricism with rationalism, which he referred to as Pure Reason. In this work Kant also provided a critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Kant’s critique has been highly influential.

Kant’s analysis of the arguments for the existence of God are contained in Transcendental Doctrine of Elements, Second Part, Second Division, Book 2, chapter 3, sections 3 to 7 of the Critique of Pure Reason.

2         Definitions of Terms

Before we review the traditional arguments we should be careful to define out terms, especially regarding existence. At least 3 types of existence have been identified. These are:

  • Impossible existence
  • Contingent existence and
  • Necessary existence.

Impossible existence refers to entities that cannot exist. These are usually entities that are logically impossible, such as square circles and married bachelors.

Contingent objects are those that we typically observe. They have a beginning, they are caused and we can imagine a world in which they do not exist. In other words they do not have to exist.

When we talk about God it is generally assumed that God is a Necessary Being. This may come in a number of flavours. It may mean that he is uncaused or has no beginning and is the cause of all other things. However, there is an even stronger sense. It may also mean that he exists necessarily. In other words it is impossible for God not to exist and that he must exist in all possible worlds. However, when we say that God is eternal and uncaused, are we necessarily asserting that God is necessary in this last and strongest sense?

Let us keep this in mind as we review Kant’s objections.

3         The Traditional Arguments for Existence of God

According to Kant (1787), there are only 3 arguments that need be considered. These are the Teleological (Design), Cosmological (First Cause) and Ontological arguments. “More there are not, and more there cannot be.” Why is this so? He does not say, but let’s just see what he says.

The Cosmological and Teleological arguments have been around since Plato and Aristotle. They depend on observations about the actual world and even have some basis in scripture, since Paul claims that God’s eternal power and divine nature is clearly perceived in what he has made.

The Ontological Argument, however, is of a quite different nature. It was invented much later in the 11th century. Nobody had thought of it before. It is nearly a purely logical argument with no reference to any particular thing in the actual world, except perhaps our minds.

Although the Cosmological and Design Arguments are much older than the Ontological Argument, Kant considers the Ontological Argument first. He argues that the Ontological Argument is a poor argument. He then argues that the other 2 arguments are ultimately dependent on the Ontological Argument and thus fall with it.

Thus firstly we will consider the Ontological Argument.

4         Ontological Argument

We have already considered the Ontological Argument 4 weeks ago (see http://reasonablefaithadelaide.org.au/the-ontological-argument/). However, I will give an overview. This will be an introduction for those who were not present at that meeting and some revision for those who were. I will provide an overview of the historical development of the Ontological Argument prior to Kant. This will cover Anselm, Gaunilo and Descartes. I will then summarise Kant’s Objections to the Ontological Argument, then compare modern Ontological Arguments and then give assessment of the relevance of Kant’s critique.

4.1       Anselm

The Ontological Argument was first developed by a Benedictine monk called Anselm (1033-1109), who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The Ontological Argument is contained in the Proslogion, which means “discourse on the existence of God”. Even if his argument is not correct, it really is a stunning piece of original thinking.

AnselmCanterbury2

Psalm 14 states that “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’”. Anselm alludes to this passage and argues that even a fool has a concept of God. He states,

Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

This passage is quite verbose, but we can simplify it a bit. Anselm reasoned that, if “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” existed only in the intellect, then it would not be “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. Thus it follows that “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” must exist in reality.

Alvin Plantinga has provided a summary of Anselm’s argument in a more logical form:

  1. God is defined as the greatest conceivable being
  2. To exist is greater than to not exist
  3. If God does not exist then we can conceive of a greater being that does exist
  4. Thus if God does not exist then he is not the greatest conceivable being
  5. This leads to a contradiction
  6. Therefore God must exist

4.2       Gaunilo of Marmoutiers

In Anselm’s own time, his argument was opposed by Gaunilo of Marmoutiers. He parodied the argument by applying it to other entities, such as “A greatest conceivable island” or “a greatest conceivable lion”. This tactic has often been used to parody the ontological argument. However, this was not the approach taken by Immanuel Kant.

Gaunilo

4.3       Descartes

The Ontological Argument was developed further by philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.

descartes

Descartes’ simplified argument can be summarised as:

  1. The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.
  2. Existence is a perfection.
  3. Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.

4.4       Kant’s Ontological Argument Objections

It is difficult to summarise Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument simply. However, it seems that Kant is mainly targeting Descartes’ version, although he does not make this clear. The major points that he seems to be raising are.

  • The Ontological Argument confuses existence and essence
  • Existence is not a Predicate
  • Negation of the proposition “God exists” does not result in a contradiction
  • You cannot establish God’s existence merely from our conceptions of God

Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument has not gone unchallenged. For each of Kant’s objections, I will mention counter objections that have been raised.

4.4.1     Confusing Existence and Essence

Descartes’ version of the Ontological Argument can be summarised as

  1. The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.
  2. Existence is a perfection.
  3. Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.

Descartes claims that existence is a perfection. However, Kant believes that Decartes is confusing essence with existence. The essence of God answers the question, “What is God like?” and describes God’s properties or characteristics, such as omniscience. However, the existence of God answers the question, “Does God exist?” Essence and existence are 2 different things. When Descartes claims that existence is a perfection, he is confusing or conflating essence with existence. On this issue Kant may well be right.

4.4.2     Existence is Not a Predicate

Kant’s main critique of Anselm’s and Descartes’ version of the Ontological Argument is that existence is not a predicate. Propositions consist of a subject and a predicate. For instance, in the sentence “A dog has four legs”, the dog is the subject and “has four legs” is the predicate. The predicate describes properties of the subject. By claiming that existence is not a predicate, Kant is challenging the claim that existence is a perfection, or that to exist is greater than to not exist.

4.4.3     Negation is not a Contradiction

Kant claims that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. Some statements are necessarily true, since their negation entails a contradiction. A couple of examples are:

  • All bachelors are unmarried
  • All squares have 4 sides

If we negate the predicate we get a contradiction, eg

  • All bachelors are married
  • All squares do not have 4 sides

However, consider the statement “God exists”. If we negate the predicate we get “God does not exist”. However “God does not exist” is a coherent statement that does not entail a contradiction. Thus Kant argues that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. In this respect I think Kant is right. The statement “God exists” is not a necessary truth. However, I think Kant confuses “necessary truth” with “Necessary Being”. The Ontological Argument is not arguing that “God exists” is a necessary truth. It is arguing that God exists necessarily, and that is different.

4.4.4     Conceptual Conundrum

Anselm argues for concepts in our minds to the objective existence of God. However, Kant argues that we cannot establish God’s existence merely from our conceptions of God. How can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence?

4.4.5     Kant’s Conclusion

Thus Kant concludes his discussion with the cutting assessment that the Ontological Argument “neither satisfies the healthy common sense of humanity, nor sustains the scientific examination of the philosopher.”

This all sounds very damning, but are Kant’s objections valid?

Kant claims that he is targeting Ontological arguments in general, but he seems to be mainly targeting Descartes’ version rather than Anselm’s.

4.5       Response to Kant’s Ontological Argument Objections

Two objections to Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument are that

  1. His Predicate Argument is irrelevant, and that
  2. Necessary Existence is indeed a Property

4.5.1     Predicate Argument is Irrelevant

Kant’s most famous objection to the Ontological Argument is his claim that existence is not a predicate. However, even this has been challenged by eminent philosophers. Alvin Plantinga has claimed that Kant’s predicate argument is irrelevant to Anselm’s Ontological Argument.

Alvin_Plantinga

He states:

Kant’s point, then, is that one cannot define things into existence because existence is not a real property or predicate in the explained sense. If this is what he means, he’s certainly right. But is it relevant to the ontological argument? Couldn’t Anselm thank Kant for this interesting point and proceed merrily on his way? Where did he try to define God into being by adding existence to a list of properties that defined some concept? …If this were Anselm’s procedure … then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn’t, and it isn’t. The usual criticisms of Anselm’s argument, then, leave much to be desired. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the argument is successful, but it does mean that we shall have to take an independent look at it.

Plantinga’s counter objections are not universally accepted (Robson 2012). However, they do illustrate that Kant’s predicate critique of Anselm’s version of the Ontological Argument is not universally considered to be watertight.

4.5.2     Necessary Existence is a Property

One of Kant’s key claims is that existence is not a property and the Ontological Argument fails because it assumes it is. However, he then proceeds to apply this to necessary existence. The idea of necessary existence is not the same thing as the idea of a being whose properties include existence. A being exists necessarily if it is impossible for that being not to exist. This need not involve the inclusion of a property called existence. Necessary existence is a type of existence and hence necessary existence is indeed a property.

4.6       Does it apply to Modern Arguments?

Alvin Plantinga has been critical of Kant’s arguments regarding Anselm’s formulation of the Ontological Argument. However, he has also proposed a revised form of the ontological argument called the Modal Ontological Argument, which goes as follows:

  1. It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists
  2. If it is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world
  3. If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world
  4. If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world then a Maximally Great Being exists in the actual world
  5. Therefore a Maximally Great Being exists

Plantinga believes that his argument avoids Kant’s fire. He claims:

Now we no longer need the supposition that necessary existence is a perfection; for obviously a being can’t be omnipotent (or for that matter omniscient or morally perfect) in a given world unless it exists in that world… It follows that there actually exists a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect; this being, furthermore, exists and has these qualities in every other world as well.

However, Plantinga concedes:

But obviously this isn’t a proof; no one who didn’t already accept the conclusion, would accept the first premise. The ontological argument we’ve been examining isn’t just like this one, of course, but it must be conceded that not everyone who understands and reflects on its central premise — that the existence of a maximally great being is possible — will accept it. Still, it is evident, I think, that there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational in accepting this premise. What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability. And hence it accomplishes at least one of the aims of the tradition of natural theology.

4.7       The Essence of the Ontological Argument

To me the essence of the Ontological Argument is that if it is possible that a Necessary Being exists, then a Necessary Being must exist in all possible worlds. This seems quite logical. However, the following issues still need to be resolved:

  • Is a Necessary Being possible?
  • Can we show that the Necessary Being is maximally perfect and is God?

4.8       Conclusion on the Ontological Argument

There seems to be an essential difference between Anselm’s version of the Ontological Argument and Plantinga’s. Anselm seems to be arguing that it is impossible for God not to exist, whereas Plantinga is arguing that if it is possible for God to exist, then he must exist. However, he leaves the possibility of God’s existence as an open issue that people will debate. Thus Plantinga concludes that it is rational to believe in God but the Modal Ontological Argument is not a proof.

Personally I am not convinced by either Anselm’s or Decartes’ version of the Ontological Argument and so I am not overly perturbed by Kant’s critique. However, I am more interested in his critique of the Cosmological argument. Has Kant undermined the Cosmological Argument in all of its possible forms?

At first sight it seems strange that Kant can possibly claim that the Cosmological Argument and Design Argument are dependent on the Ontological Argument. After all the Cosmological Argument and Design Argument have been around for over a thousand years before the Ontological Argument was ever thought of (or conceived – pun intended).

However, Kant believes that the cosmological and design proofs presuppose the ontological proof since these proofs conclude that a Necessary Being must be a most real or most excellent being. Thus even if the Cosmological Argument or Design Argument can show that a Necessary Being must exist, they then rely on the Ontological Argument to show that the Necessary Being is God.

Kant then argued that the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument. Thus he believes that, if the Ontological Argument fails, the Cosmological Argument and the Design Argument fall with it.

Firstly we will consider the Cosmological Argument.

5         Cosmological Argument

Kant’s main attack on the Cosmological Argument is that it is dependent on the Ontological Argument. The Ontological Argument argues God is a Necessary Being. Kant claims that the Cosmological Argument argues for the existence of a Necessary Being, which it then identifies as God. Kant accepts that there must be a Necessary Being in order to avoid an infinite regress. However, he disputes that it can be proven that the Necessary Being is God. He believes that the Cosmological Argument relies on the Ontological Argument to make that association. Thus if the Ontological Argument fails then the Cosmological Argument falls with it. However, is Kant right about this dependency?

5.1       Dependency Arguments

Kant seems to use 3 arguments to show the dependency of the Cosmological Argument on the Ontological Argument.

Kant’s key arguments for making the Cosmological Argument dependent on the Ontological Argument are that the Cosmological Argument assumes that:

  1. a Necessary Being is Possible
  2. the Necessary Being is Actual
  3. the Necessary is God

5.1.1     Necessary Existence is Possible

Firstly the Cosmological Argument seems to presuppose that necessary existence is possible and then shows that it is actual, since if it is not possible then it cannot be actual. Kant’s argument goes something like this:

  1. The concept of a Necessary Being appears in both arguments.
  2. The Cosmological Argument assumes that necessary existence is at least possible since if it is not possible it cannot be actual.
  3. This is a conclusion of the Ontological Argument.
  4. Thus the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument.

However, the Cosmological Argument does not assume that necessary existence is possible. Instead, the argument tries to show that necessary existence is actual, from which we can infer that it must be possible. This practice is currently used in science. Cosmologists have proposed the existence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy to explain the motion of galaxies. They have little idea what they are and so cannot directly prove that they are possible. However since they are actual, they must be possible.

5.1.2     The Necessary Being is God

The second reason that Kant provides for the dependency of the Cosmological Argument on the Ontological Argument is that the Cosmological Argument relies on the Ontological Argument to associate the Necessary Being with God. Kant claims that the Ontological Argument shows that God is a Necessary Being and therefore exists. The Cosmological Argument shows that a Necessary Being exists, but then relies on the Ontological Argument to infer that the Necessary Being is God.

However, this is not necessarily so. William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument does not go via this route. We will discuss the Kalam Cosmological Argument later.

5.2       Additional Objections

As well as claiming that the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument, Kant raises additional objections to the Cosmological Argument itself.

Kant thinks that space and time are absolutely necessary and are examples of some things that are necessarily existent apart from God. However, Kant’s views are simply dated and have been overtaken by recent scientific discoveries.

One of Kant’s aims was to define appropriate limits for the exercise of pure reason. He does not disparage pure reason altogether as much of his critique is pure reason. However, his belief that space and time were infinite and existed independently of God was, he believed, a valid conclusion based on pure reason. It was this belief that caused him to claim that a finite past led to contradictions. However, it appears he was wrong. Later empirical evidence has led to the conclusion that space and time are finite, which means that there is no contradiction if the universe has a finite past. In this case, it seems that Kant has overstepped the use of pure reason, which probably illustrates his point.

5.3       Kalam Cosmological Argument

William Lane Craig is a current proponent of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

I will cover:

  1. The argument
  2. Justifying the premises
  3. The conclusions drawn

5.3.1     The Argument

Craig’s formulation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument can be summarised by the following syllogism (2008):

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

5.3.2     Justifying the Premises

For the most part, premise 1 is usually accepted as being intuitively obvious. Most of his effort goes into justifying premise 2. Premise 2 is justified using 2 philosophical arguments and 2 arguments from scientific discoveries during the last 100 years, which are:

  1. Philosophical Arguments
    1. It is impossible to instantiate an actually infinite set. Thus there cannot be an infinite sequence of causes.
    2. It is impossible to traverse an infinite sequence of causes.
  2. Scientific Arguments
    1. The second law of thermodynamics implies that there cannot be an infinite past.
    2. The expansion of the universe implies that the universe cannot be past infinite and originated in an event 13.3 billion years ago, referred to as the Big Bang.

5.3.3     Argument Conclusions

Craig then uses information about the Big Bang to derive various attributes of the initial cause. The Big Bang marked the beginning of matter, energy, space and time. Thus the cause must at least be transcendent, timeless and powerful. These attributes are not derived from any a priori argument.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument does not argue that the cause of the universe is a Necessary Being or even God. It limits itself to those properties that are directly implied by the empirical and logical evidence.

6         Design Argument

Kant (1787) says that the Design Argument may demonstrate a designer who modifies the form of matter but not a creator of matter. To demonstrate the existence of a creator, we must rely on the Ontological Argument and the Cosmological Argument, which he regards as spurious. This proof can at most, therefore, demonstrate the existence of an architect of the world, whose efforts are limited by the capabilities of the material with which he works, but not of a creator of the world, to whom all things are subject.

In other words, the Design Argument may still be valid, but it is just limited in scope. However, this is not of serious concern. The aim of the arguments for the existence of God is mainly to establish God’s existence, not to completely define God’s attributes, and if the Design Argument is sound, then it is also decisive. The main challenge to the Design argument came much later with Darwin’s theory of evolution, which provided a naturalistic explanation of design within living creatures. To overcome this, the Design Argument has been revived in the form of the Fine Tuning Argument, which highlights design in the laws of physics, which are not subject to a Darwinian explanation. Craig’s formulation of the Fine Tuning Argument can be summarised by the following syllogism:

  1. The fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe and of the constants in the laws of physics are due to law, chance or design.
  2. They are not due to law or chance.
  3. Therefore they are due to design.

Craig then uses this syllogism to argue for a designer of the universe.

7         Craig’s arguments

From all of the above arguments it is deduced that God is maximally great, exists necessarily, is transcendent, timeless, powerful and the designer of the universe. The Plantinga version of the Ontological argument is not subject to the critique that existence is a perfection. The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument do not rely on any support from the Ontological Argument. Thus these arguments are immune from the main thrust of Kant’s critiques. However, these arguments still have limitations. They are arguments, not proofs. An atheist can always choose not to believe the premises, although the intent is to make the atheist pay an intellectual price for doing so. If well presented, they should demonstrate that it is rational and reasonable to believe in God. In addition, these arguments do not specifically point to the Christian God and are used by Jews and Muslims as well. Specifically Christian arguments must rely on evidence from the New Testament.

I personally do not find the Ontological Argument to be particularly compelling, but I do find the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument to be quite convincing. I believe this has Biblical warrant, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what he has made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Here Paul seems to be agreeing with the main thrust of the Cosmological and Design Arguments by saying that the observable world provides compelling evidences for some of the properties of the invisible God. If Paul is correct, then well-constructed Cosmological and Design Arguments should provide reasonable evidence for the existence of God.

8         Conclusion on Validity

Kant was also a man of his own time. He lived during the peak of the Enlightenment and many of his views reflect that influence. For instance, Kant claims that the Cosmological Argument is based on the “spurious transcendental law of causality”. It is not certain whether Kant is deriding the law of causality in general or just the notion of a transcendent cause. However, this statement reflects Hume’s scepticism regarding cause and effect, but should we concur with Kant that the principle of cause and effect is spurious? The Enlightenment project aimed to achieve certainty either by rationalism or empiricism. However, it failed to provide assurance even on the principle of cause and effect. However, this principle is the basis of science and is intuitively accepted to be true. After all, according to Francis Bacon, “science is the study of secondary causes”. Kant’s scepticism should be borne in mind when evaluating his critique of the Cosmological Argument. Kant is working from a standard of rigour and a desire for certainty that most scientists and ordinary people would consider to be unrealistic.

There have been a number of critics that have shown that there are numerous weaknesses in Kant’s arguments. However, his arguments have still been widely accepted, even amongst Christian theologians and apologists. Why is this so? Joyce (1922) provides a possible explanation:

It is not to be denied that ever since Kant’s time an impression has prevailed widely that the old proofs are no longer defensible. Possibly the mere fact that an eminent thinker had ventured to call in question such seemingly irrefutable arguments seemed by itself almost equivalent to a disproof. But another reason also, extrinsic it is true to the merits of the criticism, but none the less effective, operated in favour of this result. During the last century, rationalism, in the form either of naturalism or of idealism, had become strongly entrenched in the great centres of learning. It was only natural that thinkers who had discarded belief in a personal God should applaud Kant’s conclusion, even if they might hesitate to affirm that his criticism of the proofs was in all respects sound. Thus it came about that those who admitted the value of the traditional arguments were regarded as out of date. Often the validity of Kant’s objections is simply taken for granted, and the proofs of God’s existence dismissed without more ado. Even some of the apologists of revealed religion, eager not to be behind the fashion, discard them as untenable.

9         Assessment

Probably the strongest point that Kant made was that existence is not a predicate, which (to some degree) undermined the Ontological Argument, as formulated by Anselm and simplified by Descartes. Prior to Kant the arguments were regarded as proofs. One of the themes that came out of the Enlightenment was that this level of certainty is just not possible. On the other hand, I believe that Kant’s arguments on the dependency of the Cosmological Argument and Design arguments on the Ontological Argument are highly dubious.

I believe it is beneficial to be aware of Kant’s arguments and to be careful not to overstate the effectiveness and scope of Craig’s arguments. They are arguments, not proofs. However, people like Craig and Plantinga are well aware of Kant’s critique and their arguments are well crafted to avoid Kant’s fire. I have not seen any debate where Craig has been attacked directly on the basis of Kant’s critique, but occasionally some of Kant’s arguments do reappear without Kant being directly invoked.

Thus, in conclusion, I believe we can thank Kant for his interesting points and then proceed merrily on our way.

10    References

Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.

Joyce, G.H., Principles of Natural Theology, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, Toronto, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, 1922.

Kant, I. The Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd edition, 1787, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn, A Penn State Electronic Classic Series Publication, Pennsylvania State University, 2010.

Koons, R.C. Western Theism, Lecture notes and bibliography from Dr. Koons’ Western Theism course (Phl 356) at the University of Texas at Austin, Spring 1998, http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/, in particular Lectures 5&9.

Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom and Evil, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974. The pertinent section on the ontological argument is quoted at http://mind.ucsd.edu/syllabi/02-03/01w/readings/plantinga.html.

Robson, Gregory, The Ontological Proof: Kant’s Objections, Plantinga’s Reply, KSO 2012: 122-171, posted August 26, 2012 www.kantstudiesonline.net.

Worthing, M., Apologetics Intensive Lecture Notes, Section 05, Apologetics, proofs and science, 2012.

http://www.scandalon.co.uk/philosophy/philosophy.htm

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

http://www3.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/pnt.htm

 

Molinism

July 8, 2013

Molinism

Arminianism and Calvinism are 2 views on the sovereignty of God and human freedom over which Christians have been divided. Arminianism emphasizes the freedom of the human will and responsibility in choosing to follow Christ, whereas Calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty in choosing the elect in accordance with His own free and unmerited favour.

On Thursday the 20th of June John Quin provided a presentation on Molinism. Molinism is named after the 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina. It is a doctrine that attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will and supposedly is a middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism. Molinists hold that God knows what His creatures would freely choose if placed in any circumstance in addition to knowing everything that does or will happen. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga are some of its best known advocates today and use its principles to address the problem of evil.

Unfortunately video recording equipment was not available on the night. John seemed quite delighted. However, here are John’s Power Point slides on Molinism.

The Ontological Argument

June 13, 2013

The Ontological Argument

On Thursday the 6th of June we discussed the Ontological argument. The Ontological Argument (OA) is an argument for the existence of God based on reason alone without virtually any reference to scientific or historical evidence. The purpose of our discussion was to familiarise ourselves with the argument and the issues that surround it rather than to argue vehemently for its truth. The meeting was recorded via the Video Recording and the Power Point Slides.

The content of the presentation is also summarised as follows:

1 Introduction

The Ontological Argument has been highly controversial and maligned ever since it was first conceived. For instance, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer described the OA as a “sleight of hand trick” or “a charming joke”. Bertrand Russell was also dismissive, but with some reservations. He stated,

It is much easier to be persuaded that ontological arguments are no good than it is to say exactly what is wrong with them.

 The OA appears at first to be absurd, until you really start to think about it. Alvin Pantinga puts it this way,

Although the [ontological] argument certainly looks at first sight as if it ought to be unsound, it is profoundly difficult to say what, exactly, is wrong with it. Indeed, I do not believe that any philosopher has ever given a cogent and conclusive refutation of the ontological argument in its various forms.

 Other common arguments for the existence of God are the Cosmological and Design Arguments. These rely on observations about the actual world. They both precede the OA by over a thousand years since they have their origins in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. One can even find justification for these arguments in the writings of the apostle Paul in Romans 1. However, the OA is radically different. It is an argument based upon what Immanuel Kant calls, “Pure Reason”. It is a purely logical argument that has virtually no reference to the actual world.

 2 Anselm of Canterbury

The OA was first conceived rather late in history by a Monk in the 11th Century. Saint Anselm of Canterbury (c.?1033 – 21 April 1109) was a Benedictine monk, who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. He has been a major influence in Western theology. Anselm sought to understand Christian doctrine through reason and develop intelligible truths interwoven with the Christian belief. He believed that the necessary preliminary for this was possession of the Christian faith. He wrote, “Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.” In his Proslogion (which means Discourse on the Existence of God), Anselm put forward a “proof” of the existence of God which was later called the “ontological argument”. The term itself was first applied by Immanuel Kant to the arguments of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century rationalists (Descartes and Leibniz). Anselm defined his belief in the existence of God using the phrase “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”.

In the Psalms it says “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’”. Thus Anselm argues that even the fool has a concept of God. A critical passage from the Proslogion is as follows:

Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

This passage is quite verbose, but we can simplify it a bit. He reasoned that, if “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” existed only in the intellect, then it would not be “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. It follows, according to Anselm, that “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” must exist in reality. The bulk of the Proslogion is taken up with Anselm’s attempt to establish the identity of “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” as God, and thus to establish that God exists in reality. Anselm wrote in an informal style before the days of philosophical precision. However, Alvin Plantinga has provided a formalised rewording of Anselm’s Argument.

  1. God is defined as the greatest conceivable being
  2. To exist is greater than to not exist
  3. If God does not exist then we can conceive of a greater being that does exist
  4. Thus if God does not exist then he is not the greatest conceivable being
  5. This leads to a contradiction
  6. Therefore God must exist

3 Gaunilo

Anselm’s ontological proof has been the subject of controversy since it was first published in the 1070s. It was opposed at the time by a fellow 11th century Benedictine monk called Gaunilo of Marmoutiers. He argued that humans cannot pass from intellect to reality. In Behalf of the Fool, Gaunilo refutes Anselm using a parody of Anselm’s argument

  1. The Lost Island is that than which no greater can be conceived
  2. It is greater to exist in reality than merely as an idea
  3. If the Lost Island does not exist, one can conceive of an even greater island, i.e., one that does exist
  4. Therefore, the Lost Island exists in reality

Most attacks on the OA are based on parodies. If the same argument can be used to prove something absurd, then there must be something wrong with the original argument. This process is valid. However, usually there is something wrong with the parody. In Gaunilo’s case there is No intrinsic maximum for the greatest conceivable island. How many palm trees and dancing girls constitute the greatest conceivable island? Thus “a greatest conceivable island” is not a coherent concept? Gaunilo’s criticism is repeated by several later philosophers, among whom are Thomas Aquinas and Kant. In fact much of the criticism has come from people who already believed in God.

4 The Rationalists

Rene Descartes is an extremely important person in the development of Western Philosophy. He is considered the father of modern philosophy and the father of rationalism as well as being a great mathematician. Rationalism was a movement that aimed to obtain certain knowledge by pure reason alone. Anyway he contributed to the development of the OA. He introduced the idea that existence is a perfection. He also introduced an intuitive argument for the existence of God. The more you ponder the nature of God, the more it becomes evident to the intuition that God must exist. Descartes’ argument can be summarised as follows: • God is a supremely perfect being, holding all perfections

  1.  Existence is a perfection
  2. It would be more perfect to exist than not to exist
  3. If the notion of God did not include existence, it would not be supremely perfect, as it would be lacking a perfection
  4. Consequently, the notion of a supremely perfect God who does not exist is unintelligible
  5. Therefore, according to his nature, God must exist

Leibniz was also a Rationalist. He extended Descartes’ argument because he knew that Descartes’ argument fails unless one can show:

  1. That the idea of a supremely perfect being is coherent, or
  2. That it is possible for there to be a supremely perfect being.

He claimed that it is impossible to demonstrate that perfections are incompatible and thus all perfections can co-exist together in a single entity. Since he considered logic associated with necessity and possibility was in fact a forerunner of modal logic and the Modal Ontological Argument.

5 Kant’s Critique

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was an Enlightenment Philosopher. His greatest work was the Critique of Pure Reason in which he attempted to unite empiricism and rationalism (Pure Reason). Within the Critique of Pure Reason he launched what many consider a devastating critique of the traditional arguments for existence of God, in particular

  • The Ontological argument,
  • The Cosmological argument, and
  • The Teleological (or Design) argument.

This doesn’t mean he was an atheist. In fact he believed in God, but this belief was based on the moral argument. Hence we can consider his arguments as friendly fire. Kant launched at least 3 criticisms of the OA. They are:

  1. Existence is not a predicate
  2. How can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence?
  3. Negation does not entail a contradiction

We will look at each of these criticisms.

5.1 Existence is not a predicate

Kant is famous for his claim that existence is not a predicate. However, what is a predicate? The definition of the meaning of predicate is crucial to Kant’s argument. One way of defining predicate is to say that all propositions consist of a subject and a predicate. For example, consider the statement, “A dog has 4 legs”. “A dog” is the subject and “has 4 legs” is the predicate. That seems to make sense. However, consider the proposition “God exists”. God is the subject and exists is the predicate. Thus existence is a predicate and so Kant must be wrong. However, Kant is not that stupid. Predicate can be defined in other ways. The predicate contains the properties of the subject. Kant argued that existence is an instantiation of an object and thus existence is not a property, nor is it a perfection. Kant was not so much undermining Anselm’s version of the OA. He was primarily aiming at Descartes’ version of the argument as Descartes had claimed that existence is a perfection and thus it would be more perfect to exist than not to exist.

5.2 Conceptual Conundrum

Anselm argues for concepts in our minds to the objective existence of God. However, how can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence? It makes me wonder.

5.3 Negation is not a Contradiction

Some statements are necessarily true, since their negation entails a contradiction. Examples of statements that are necessarily true are:

  • All bachelors are unmarried
  • All squares have 4 sides

However “God does not exist” is a coherent statement that does not entail a contradiction. Thus Kant argues that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. In this respect I think Kant is right. The statement “God exists” is not a necessary truth. However, I think Kant confuses “necessary truth” with “necessary being”.

Thus Kant concludes that the Ontological Argument “neither satisfies the healthy common sense of humanity, nor sustains the scientific examination of the philosopher.” However, Kant’s views are not universally accepted. We are going to look at Plantinga’s Modal Ontological Argument but firstly we will look at what Plantinga has to say about Kant, in particular his predicate argument. Plantinga says:

Kant’s point, then, is that one cannot define things into existence because existence is not a real property or predicate in the explained sense. If this is what he means, he’s certainly right. But is it relevant to the ontological argument? Couldn’t Anselm thank Kant for this interesting point and proceed merrily on his way? Where did he try to define God into being by adding existence to a list of properties that defined some concept? If this were Anselm’s procedure — if he had simply added existence to a concept that has application contingently if at all — then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn’t, and it isn’t. The usual criticisms of Anselm’s argument, then, leave much to be desired.

Plantinga may or may not be right. The point is that Kant’s views are not universally accepted.

6 The Modal Ontological Argument

Alvin Plantinga has produced a version of the Ontological Argument that is based on modal logic and is thus called the Modal Ontological Argument (MOA). Modal logic is an extension of philosophical logic to deal with possibility and necessity. God is defined as a Maximally Great Being (MGB) and one key property of God is that He exists necessarily. The argument does not rely on concepts in the mind and seems to avoid all of Kant’s objections. The MOA is as follows:

  1. Premise 1: It is possible that God exists.
  2. Premise 2: If it is possible that God exists, then God exists in some possible worlds.
  3. Premise 3: If God exists in some possible worlds, then God exists in all possible worlds.
  4. Premise 4: If God exists in all possible worlds, then God exists in the actual world.
  5. Premise 5: If God exists in the actual world, then God exists.

The MOA refers to possible worlds and the concept of possible worlds is a big part of modal logic. A possible world is any possible combination of state of affairs.

Most people are initially puzzled by premise 3 which states that “If an MGB exists in some possible world, then an MGB exists in every possible world”. Why is this so? One property of an MGB is that an MGB is a necessary being. Therefore a necessary being can exist in one possible world then he/she/it must exist in all possible worlds. The rest of the premises and the conclusion follow in a fairly natural way. Thus according to William Lane Craig only premise 1 is controversial (It is possible that an MGB exists).
However, what does “possible” mean? “Possible” means “metaphysically possible” rather than “epistemically possible” Does this sound confusing? Metaphysically possible means “is it actually logically possible?” whereas epistemically possible relates to our knowledge. For example, if I say “Gee, I dunno, therefore I guess it’s possible” that is not what the argument means by possible. Thus possibility is not an appeal to ignorance.

The argument is also not implying that existence is a property or predicate. Existence may not be a property but type of existence is. The type of existence may be

  1. Impossible (e.g. a square circle),
  2. Contingent (can exist in some possible worlds but not others, e.g. a unicorn), or
  3. Necessary (has to exist in all possible worlds, e.g. numbers, shape definitions or absolute truth)

7 Objections

Objections to the MOA usually come in 2 types. These are:

  • Parodies, or
  • Claims that a MGB is incoherent or impossible.

7.1 Parodies

Parodies are not really an argument. Parodies are attempts to use parallel arguments to prove the existence of things we don’t believe in and so demonstrate the absurdity of the original argument. If the parody is valid then there is further work to do. We still have to find the flaw in the original argument. What we think we find with the MOA is that all of the parodies contain flaws. The MOA only works for an MGB. We will look at some examples of parodies.

7.1.1 Necessarily Existent Pink Unicorn

Someone has attempted to use the MOA to prove the existence of a Necessarily Existent Pink Unicorn. The argument goes like this:

  1. It is possible that a Necessarily Existent Pink Unicorn (NEPU) exists
  2. If it is possible that a NEPU exists, then a NEPU exists in some possible world
  3. If a NEPU exists in some possible world, then a NEPU exists in every possible world
  4. If a NEPU exists in every possible world then a NEPU exists in the actual world
  5. Therefore a NEPU exists

However there are problems with this parody. The counter argument is as follows:

  1. A pink unicorn is physical
  2. All physical objects/beings are contingent
  3. Therefore a pink unicorn cannot be a necessary being
  4. Therefore premise 1 fails

 7.1.2 Reverse OA

The reverse MOA is an attempt to use the same argument structure to prove that an MOA does not exist.

  1. It is possible that an MGB does not exist
  2. If it is possible that an MGB does not exist, then an MGB does not exist in some possible world
  3. If an MGB does not exist in some possible world, then an MGB does not exist in every possible world
  4. If an MGB does not exist in every possible world then an MGB does not exist in the actual world
  5. Therefore Maximal Greatness is impossible

However, Premise 1 is tantamount to saying that it is not possible that an MGB exists. Thus it assumes its conclusion and is begging the question. Likewise premise 2 is question begging.

7.1.3 Dawkins’ Ontological Argument

Richard Dawkins has proposed an OA to prove that God does not exist. The Argument is as follows:

  1. The creation of the world is the most marvellous achievement imaginable.
  2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.
  3. The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.
  4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.
  5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being namely, one who created everything while not existing.
  6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.
  7. Therefore, God does not exist.

However, it is incoherent and impossible to propose creation by a God who does not exist.

7.2 Incoherency

As well as using parodies other people claim that the idea of an MGB is incoherent. These are versions that claim that it is not possible that an MGB exists. These are typified by:

  1. The Omnipotence Paradox, and
  2. The Problem of Evil

The omnipotence paradox is “Can God create a stone that is so heavy that he cannot lift it?” The idea is to show that one or more of God’s attributes are incoherent or self –contradictory. However, No-one claims that God can do the logically impossible, such as creating a square circle.

The other objection is that the presence of evil means it is impossible that an MGB exists. However, we deal with this issue in other sessions.

8 Essence of Argument

In conclusion, what is the essence of this argument? Is it just playing with words or does it have a core argument that is compelling. The core argument that really makes sense to me is that if it is possible that a Necessary Being (NB) exists then that NB must exist in all possible worlds. This makes sense and seems necessarily true.

Some have claimed that it is a good argument but it still does not convince people. However, William Lane Craig believes in the argument and has started using it in debates. Craig used the MOA in a debate with Victor Stenger. Stenger attempted to use a parody, which was a maximally great pizza. However, Craig easily demonstrated that a maximally great pizza is incoherent, since a really great pizza is meant to be eaten.

However, is the OA helpful in other ways? I believe it is. I have heard it claimed that it never convinces anyone. However, this is not always true. A student did his PhD on the MOA and eventually convinced his supervisor. The MOA also asserts that God is maximally great in every possible way. This may feed into the Moral Argument and be one solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Kevin Rogers

The Great Debate – Does God Exist?

May 30, 2013

On Thursday 23rd of May we held our first debate. I debated Laurie Eddie on the subject “Does God Exist?” It would be unfair for me to make any judgement on the result of the debate, as I may be a little biased. However, I believe everyone enjoyed themselves and found it interesting, including Laurie. It was our largest meeting so far.

The debate is on YouTube. See

You can access the slide presentations at The Case For the Existence of God and The Case Against the Existence of God.

Check it out and make up your own mind.

Kevin Rogers