This is a redo of my previous post, “The ‘Accumulative Past’ Argument Against God’s Existence”. After some discussion on Facebook I decided to change it up. I thought #1 was a weak premise, even for a skeptic, seeing as time as we know it is an abstraction by itself, and if it’s applied to a transcendent being it pretty much loses enough meaning to really talk about it. But I decided to go with it since that was my initial thought.
Here’s the revamped argument:
1. For God to be God He must embody all the properties He has to the maximal degree.
2. The universe and things inside it (people, rivers, quarks) are all separate from God.
3. God plus the universe is greater than God.
4. Therefore, there is at least one property, the quantity or “amount” of being, that God (or “God”, now) does not hold in the maximal degree (1-3).
To put it in a single sentence: all of existence (God plus anything He has created) is greater than God alone, therefore existence itself, not God, is the holds the trophy for being the category holding the most “stuff” in it.
Still, this needs a lot of discussion, and I’m going to assume this has been thought of before in a different, more academically rigorous form. Stanford’s ontological arguments page should probably have it, but I have yet to really dive into it.
In the end, though, providing arguments for this or that logically when speaking of metaphysical truths butts up against boundaries but doesn’t break through. It can’t. The nature of God should be elusive; I personally wouldn’t be satisfied in believing in a god that is perfectly logical.
This argument is very weak because it’s just a framework. A more realer philosopher-guy needs to put some meat on the steps. Additionally, this can only work for skeptics, who by dint of their beliefs must claim to know a lot more about metaphysical truths than theists*, and in purely materialist epistemological terms.
1. God has a past.
2. God is such a being that holds properties to the greatest conceivable degree.
3. Therefore, God’s past must be the largest out of anything (1 + 2).
4. Creation (humans, rivers, quarks, etc.) has a past.
5. God’s past plus the past of all created things is greater that God’s past (deductive logic/math).
6. Therefore, God does not exist or cannot exist as currently conceived since He has one thing (His past) that is not the largest out of anything conceivable (3 – 5).
* Real theists are painfully aware of how unknowable God really is, but skeptics spin like lassos their arguments like the matter is settled. Most of those frumpy-minded theists among us that self-glorify themselves as God’s direct mouthpiece can be safely ignored.
A pastor I follow online posted a quick rebuttal of a boilerplate criticism of theistic belief. In his blog is mainly concerned with theistic belief qua theistic belief, not as interpreted via Western modes of reasoning, though this post shows his strong grip on formal logic. To wit:
Smart-aleck atheist wannabe asks, “Do you believe your God can do anything?”
Christian kid says, “Yeah, sure.”
Smart-aleck: “Do you believe He can make a rock too big for Him to lift? Yes or no?”
We’ll make this quick and merciful. Three category errors, a false dichotomy and a charge of intellectual dishonesty.
My reply always went something like, “Yeah, He could maybe do it to prove that He could. But what makes you think He’d bother to prove it to begin with?”.
It reminds me of a C.S. Lewis’ line from Miracles: nonsense is still nonsense even when we talk it about God.
On Omegle you can chat anonymously with another anonymous user, but you can also ask questions and watch two users discuss it, or stand on the other side and discuss a question with someone else. In between disturbingly sexual questions about the My Little Pony reboot and disturbingly sexual questions about everything else, you can stumble on an actual decent question.
Here’s one I asked in a bunch of sessions, just to see if I could get people to discuss it. Not just discuss it, but talk about it without getting into an insult match.
What are your beliefs on the origins of the universe? Be more specific than “God did it”/Big Bang one liners.
Omegle attracts a lot of people worldwide, so there’s an opportunity to reach people of varying belief systems beyond the nominal theist/skeptic dichotomy in America. Kind of like this:
Most of the time you will get goofball/stoner-inspired responses like this, if neither of the strangers disconnects right away:
Sometimes people confuse the question as concerning the origin of life on earth, not the cosmological angle:
I’m always suspicious of people like Stranger 2 here, who is just streaming theoretical physics-babble. How can someone come to these conclusions with an amount of certainty? The “spy” Stranger 1 refers to is the questioner (me):
I have no idea why Stranger 2 is so amazed at the “intelligence” of a 14 year old typed that out an incoherent non-sentence. Maybe there’s a film reference I’m not getting. They reference Mean Girls and Big Bang Theory*, so their intellectual reach might not be that extensive:
Speaking of not answering the question, Stranger 2 here answered immediately (probably cut and pasted) and coolly trolled Stranger 1 pretty hard. There’s nothing of value here other than seeing Stranger 1 jump on the bait.
I’m going to do another post further down the road with some hopefully more meaty responses. Given the nature of Omegle I don’t know how much better they’ll be.
* Nice try, but liking a show about smart people does not mean you like “smart” things nor does it make you smart.
Plantinga, armed with some Aquinas and Calvin ordinance, called the working apparatus that utilizes this epistemology the sensus divinatus; our “sense of the divine”. I’m not aware of how much Plantinga knew of ME epistemology but from what I know of his ideas and the ME method, he seems to describe some version of it. If you are a Christian or any kind of religious person you accept the ME method of knowing things of the supernatural even if you don’t name it as such.
The other side of that coin is that, if someone makes any statement at all concerning the metaphysical realm, he uses the ME epistemological method to induce this. In other words, a definitive statement about metaphysical things is intrinsically a-rational, because it does not involve the Aristotelian faculties. This includes claims of atheists, who have the tendency, de rigueur, to claim religious belief as irrational. All of the philosophical dodges involving withheld judgments of God’s existence until “scientific proof” is presented are incoherent because science is unable to measure anything metaphysical. Those who maintain a “scientific, rational” mind while at the same time insist on God’s nonexistence are using non-scientific, non-rational methods to conclude it.
It’s easy if we think of ME epistemology as a sense, like sight. There are people who look and see a tree outside of the window and maybe determine some of its qualities, and there are people who look and see no tree. Both are using their eyes, even if the latter claim that eyes do not exist in the first place and that trees do not exist because they conclude that trees must be, say, felt in order to really exist.
Looking at it this way, the only ones who can legitimately claim non-use of the ME method are strong agnostics (“No one has eyes to see this concept of the tree, so we cannot say whether or not they exist.”), and possibly weak ones (“I don’t know if we have eyes or not, but if we do we may be able to figure out if tree exist.”). If one claims Aristotelian epistemological methods are the only valid ones, then a statement about the supernatural cannot be made. Such a statement would be considered incoherent. There are no eyes to determine if the tree is not there.
I first heard, and heard of, Zacharias on a Christian-oriented AM radio station in Connecticut. I appreciated his broadcast, which were really recorded speeches, because he was an academic lecturer and not a pastor or preacher. The western church in general has an abysmal record for placing effective people in academia, and it was a relief to hear Zacharias, with his Indian lilt and persuasive cadence, on a Christian station where the norm is having an radio-vangelist bore to tears anyone under the age of 70 with droning JAYSUS talk.
The bulk of the book has Zacharias explaining how atheism will lead to existential despair, and how theism—Christianity in particular—can provide the meaning that searching souls are looking for. In a broader, more cultural and political sense I think this is accurate: when the metaphysical foundations for morality are done away with, a la Nietzsche, man as a heroic being has to recreate and affirm morality. This was kind of Nietzsche’s prediction and warning to those that have found God “dead”. Unfortunately, the desire to recreate intrinsic moral laws is a delightful prospect for politicians (usually despots) as a way to expand the state to obscene, lethal proportions at the expense of the individual.
It seems that Zacharias believes that the despair of atheists is inevitable. In fact, he spends a chapter or so on the loss of meaning in the atheist’s life and later attempts to remedy that with a metaphysical solution. But I don’t think it’s necessarily true on an individual level. It’s not that complicated, really: the theist finds meaning in life through divine revelation and it stretches beyond the material universe. The atheist finds meaning in life through material epistemologies and intellectual apprehension, and it doesn’t go beyond physical death*. The new Christian can experience similar despair when he abandons a former belief system and enters into the Christian one, however short-lived it may be.
If it sounds like I’m just badmouthing the book, I don’t intend to. There’s lots of little pulses of information and arguments to to be found scattered around the whole book, wrapped in Zacharias’ endearing expository prose. The most informative section, for me, was Zacharias’ sectioned summary of intellectual skepticism through mini-biographies of philosophers past, from Descartes up to Sartre and Russell. He did a great job of summarizing the scope of skepticism of belief in absolute morality and demonstrating the weaknesses in each thinker’s philosophy (he thankfully didn’t hold back on the theistic philosophers, either). Because some of the book presupposes theism to be true in order to accept some of the arguments, this section is more objective and can hold the most value for any reader.
*It’s important to remember that there are different kinds of atheism that allow for a supernatural reality or a type of god. Buddhism is technically atheist because it does not posit a God, but asserts some kind of metaphysical reality. Additionally, there can be some atheists who believe in some sort of god, though it has to be wholly material (Zacharias, at some points, seems to annoyingly conflate atheism with materialism).
The bare bones of the argument, shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia:
1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
I’m not going expound on it too much about all of this—you can just hit that Stanford link for a good round up. But be sure to read up on the refutations of it. The first link there on the search, the post author posits the idea of a “yniverse”, which gives birth to our own universe, God unneeded. Well, that was easy.
There’s some good back and forth in the comments section, but supposing this yniverse exists, it says nothing about the God creating the universe, or even that God exists; you’ve only succeeded in pushing the question back another universe-unit. It only works as a non-theistic explanation if you are already presupposing atheism. The same goes for the Kalām argument itself, but that one seems to receive the brunt of the circular fallacy accusations.
Even if God is hypothesized as the creator of the laws of nature that caused the universe (or multiverse) to pop into existence out of nothing—if such laws are deterministic—then God had no choice in the creation of the universe and thus was not needed.
Eh? All Shermer did was switcheroo the property of determinism from God to the universe. God is not immutable, the universe is. Therefore, God is not really a god but a lesser being of undisclosed origin subject to the superiority of physical laws. The universe’s laws are deterministic because God, if He exists, is not. Theism isn’t true because atheism is.
But really, this illustrates the subtle philosophical dodging that atheists can do: that the universe/yniverse model, sans God, accepts certain properties of God, like perhaps His infinity or His creative capacities, and attributes them to the an x-verse. You have some the properties of God that you have to accept and applies them to the universe—no outlying messy beliefs of the supernatural to deal with. It’s the perfect crime.
It goes back to what I mentioned before about atheism needing to find divine qualities somewhere. If you’re of the scientism bent you’ll find it in the universe. Or if you’re the humanist type you will find it in the spirit of man; the political type, the state. The need for the supernatural seems inescapable.
Closing thought on a semantic issue: though some skeptics rightly state if you’re an atheist there was no “science” at the beginning of the universe, because science as a process needs rational actors to sensually perceive and apply inductive logic, the two building blocks of the process. If you’re a theist (and not a pantheist) you can easily say, in a rather crude manner, that science did exist and even was used to create the universe if presuppose God a sensually perceiving and logicizing agent.