Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ontological Arguments (54 years of fun ahead)

I thought I'd take a break from William Lane Craig for a bit (I'll get back to the Kalam Cosmological Argument post in the near future), but I want to at least show that my interests in the subject of God's existence are varied, and I'm not a WLC worshiper, even though I admire the man very much, while I might be able to pick out some areas where we are in disagreement.

I'm trying to get my head around some very difficult Modal Ontological Arguments, and I've posted some outlines in the Outlines of Arguments Tab at the top of the home page, or you can simply click here.

*Note - some of you may probably notice that I've begun thinking of a logical structure for this blog, and I'm attempting to get some simple reference information to everyone as quickly as I can.  I feel the best way to do that is through stand-alone pages that are linked through tabs at the top of the page; something I'm sure others are familiar with, but which I've never done before.  So as the blog develops I will set up as many pages as I can with various information that might need to be easily accessed so we can all follow some of the more complicated arguments.  Therefore, a glossary of terms will be started shortly, and I will continue to add arguments for and counter to God's existence in the  Outlines of Arguments Tab.

Please also keep in mind that I'm including information that I am not completely familiar with as well; as this blog for me is an exercise of study and grappling with difficult issues.  As I stated, I'm no expert on any of this stuff, but I hope to be more of one (or closer to being one) as this blog develops.

Ontological arguments are difficult because they require some rather in-depth understanding of a way of thinking that does not come natural to us by intuition.  Modal thought is thus, quite complicated, but highly logical, as I've discovered.

My initial thought several years ago when confronted with Ontological Arguments for God's existence, was that they were entirely unnecessary.  I did not view them as bearing as much weight as for example design arguments or cosmological arguments.  They appeared to me as rather simple, while Cosmological arguments seemed to have more substantive proofs.  I think a lot of that has to do with the manner in which formal ontological arguments are drawn out; which could be somewhat deceiving.  And I think a first rule in looking at argumentation, which seems to aline with Occam's Razor, is that simple does not always mean less meaningful or warranted than what might appear more complicated.  For in Ontological arguments, it's not the arguments themselves that are complicated, but the background information and terminology required to understand them.  I think once the background is understood the arguments themselves can be rather easily grasped.  At least that's what I've come to understand from looking into just a few of such arguments; Alvin Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument, and just recently, Charles Hartshorne's Modal Ontological Argument.

Well my current thinking is that some Modal Ontological Arguments actually prove (by logical proof) God's existence, while some of the other types of arguments merely make God's existence more (far more) probable than His nonexistence.  This is so because the very nature of modal thought deals with the issues of probability (or more precisely possibility), impossibility, necessity and contingency, upon which many of the other arguments depend - particularly the Kalam and some moral arguments.

Now I am in complete awareness that many atheists and skeptics of theism are not too fond of ontological arguments, which is understandable.  It is also my understanding that many atheists and skeptics of theism simply don't understand the operations of modal thought with regard to such arguments as is seen in the ways they attempt to rebut modal arguments simply by flipping them around (and we will get into that more in-depth later on when the concepts and modes are understood).

Some of my own barriers

I hesitate to mention this, but I think it might be helpful if you understand some of the barriers to my own thinking.  I did not know this as a child, but I've recently come to understand that I have some autistic "tendencies," and while I haven't been formally diagnosed (working on that now), It looks as though I fit very clearly into what is called the Autistic Spectrum, which simply means that a person substantially meets certain and specific personality and social difficulty diagnostic criteria in order to substantially form a diagnosis.  As such, I tend to be rather long-winded and detailed in my writing and in speech; but much more in my writing.  So if you can keep that in mind, and maybe if you could suggest to me ways that I could condense some of the detail without losing the communication altogether, I think that would be helpful.

But it also becomes a barrier to me as I don't have the ability to pull complex arguments together in my thinking without some rather long pondering of what is meant.  This is the reason I had so much trouble in college and ended up dropping out (but also due to the social pressures).  I'm a person who tends to learn better by doing rather than by reading or studying.  I often find myself reading several chapters of a book and not being able to recall anything of what I had just read.  This is also common when I must listen to someone speak for a long period of time.  Some of that may be ADHD, but a lot of it for me is social.  I guess that's why after many years of my family believing that I couldn't think logically due to my somewhat awkward speech, communication patterns and behavior, they finally came to see that I could be highly logical when my thoughts are written out as opposed to spoken.  As I understand it, this is a characteristic that is common to mildly autistic people.

With that said, back to the lesson, discussion, presentation, whatever you want to call it.

Here's a proposition I'm dealing with now:

1) God can be analytically conceived without  contradiction.

If that is a true statement I can move on.

I can analytically conceive of God without contradiction

Here's my conception:

He is a being who is immaterial, unchanging, eternal and with maximal power.

Now someone might be able to argue that somehow his being eternal is logically in conflict with his being immaterial, or any other such conflict within just that conception of God.  That would cause that one particular conception of God to be contradictory but it would not cause all possible conceptions of God to be contradictory.  If any two of those elements are not contradictory, then those two could form a concept of God themselves that is not contradictory.

However, I don't believe that there is any conflict between the elements of that conception of God that I have just named:

Something could be unchanging and immaterial. There's nothing about immateriality that would in the sense of a square circle be impossible if it was also unchanging.  There is nothing about being eternal that would in the sense of a square circle be impossible if it was also unchanging.  I can apply that to all possible combinations of those four elements of the conception of God and they do not cause a contradiction in conception such as with a square circle.  I can add other such elements, and none of them would contradict.

Therefore I hold that it is true that God can be analytically conceived without contradiction.  It is a true statement and I can move on.

2) Therefore God is not impossible.

The first premise is true, so the conclusion is also true.

3) By definition God cannot be contingent.

That's an easier one because we simply need to know that by definition God would be necessary and not contingent or He wouldn't be God by definition.  The only objection I can think of to this would be the proposal that God could by definition be contingent; but that would be an absurdity, since God is not by definition contingent.  It would be like saying squares by definition could be circles.

4)  Therefore God is either necessary or impossible.

Yup, that's a sound conclusion based on the premise that he cannot be contingent. 

5)  God is not impossible as established in 2, therefore God is necessary.

6) Whatever is necessary by force of Becker's theorem must necessarily exist.

If you want to know what Becker's theorem is you can check here.

7) Therefore God exists.

What you have just seen is an application of Charles Hartshorne's (1897-2000) Modal Argument.  Keep in mind it's not his argument, but my application of it, trying to work out all of the premises and conclusions so that I'm satisfied that it's sound.  The one thing is clear to me though, Charles Hartshorne had a lot of time to spend on this.  He lived to 103.  How's that for longevity?

I'm not done yet, but give me another 54 years and I should have it wrapped up.  Seriously though, is there a counter argument that could pick it apart?  Is there a way I can apply similar but counter premises and reach the opposite conclusion?  

That's where I'm going next with this.

Welcome to modal arguments.  And that's just a cursory look, like visiting Greece, but we haven't left the airport yet.  Have you ever been in Athens Airport?  No? Then you have no idea.  But as you can see it looks pretty simple, but there's so much more to it.

Stay tuned.


  1. Brandon:

    The key issue here is that we need to look at causality and necessary causal factors, to understand -- the key issue -- what a necessary being is.

    The match exercise helps: a fire has heat, fuel and air or similar oxidiser as necessary causal factors, without which it cannot start or be sustained. Firemen fight fires by knocking out one or more of these legs.

    If something begins to exist or may cease from existing, it has at least one necessary causal factor, and "enable" switch if you will. If the switch is OFF, the thing will not begin, or if currently existing, will cease.

    Things with such enabling switches are contingent.

    Now, we may conceive something that does not have such an enabling switch. That thing will have one of two possibilies:

    (a) it cannot begin to exist so if it exists it is eternal, i.e. it always was and always will be in all possible worlds. Indeed, if it does not exist, that would be where the contradiction would lie. A non-controversial case is the truth in statements like 2 + 3 = 5.

    (b) the candidate is impossible so it never was and never will be, most likely because it's very existence is a contradiction, like your square circle.

    Going beyond, we see that abstract realities like the truth behind 2 + 3 = 5 do not have creative causal force, though it is true that it is a necessary condition of the existence of anything they are relevant to that if there are two of something and three of the same in it, the total is and must be 5.

    There is a second possibility, since matter plainly (post Einstein and post Hubble) is credibly contingent. That is, a matter-based cosmos is not self-explanatory, it has necessary causal factors. So, we must be open as well to something very much like an eternal mind that is beyond matter, in which BTW, classically, truths like the above -- which are inherently mental -- would reside eternally.

    That such a mind could exist is not self refuting like the square circle. It is not impossible.

    Such a mind is credibly possible, and it is not a self contradiction (though mysterious) that such a mind could have creative purposes and powers sufficient to initiate the sort of fine tuned, life facilitating cosmos we observe and experience.

    So, we see reason to at least appreciate those who will reason on such candidate necessary beings: if possible, then actual.

    GEM of TKI

  2. GEM (KF)

    I'm glad you posted this here. In my thinking, understanding necessity and contingency in causality is intuitive. For me it's a given, and I cannot think any other way on the matter, but I'm less able to articulate why this is so. I guess this exercise in looking into ontological arguments is my attempt to bridge a gap between my intuition and an ability to reason through that to show why it is so. I happen to believe that most theists have the same intuition. Belief in God is much more than simply acceptance of a blind proposition that God exists, but a clear perspective on reality, which fosters that intuition.

    The materialist perspective appears to be to downplay that intuition not with reason, but with manipulation of other "facts and figures" that have nothing to do with the issue.

  3. Also, In my very first post here...:

    Daniel Dennett appears to be saying that Craig is arguing merely from intuition, and Craig has been accused by others as doing so, because Craig has simply stated that our intuitions are often correct - especially when it comes to dealing with matters of infinites in reality.

    Craig simply shows through reason why such intuitions are valid. We don't depend on them alone, but on our ability to articulate through reason why they are so. That's what Craig does.

    I believe that materialists attack the ontological arguments by avoiding those very valid intuitions - that nothing comes from nothing. If you manipulate into that certain "facts and figures" like quantum mechanics and the like, you can avoid the obvious; but you're by no means being reasonable.