Twenty Arguments for God – Seven – The Argument from Contingency

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 7:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#7
If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

7. The Argument from Contingency

The basic form of this argument is simple.
If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.
What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.
Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist must transcend both space and time.
Suppose you deny the first premise. Then if X exists, there need not exist what it takes for X to exist. But “what it takes for X to exist” means the immediate condition(s) for X’s existence. You mean that X exists only if Y. Without Y, there can be no X. So the denial of premise 1 amounts to this: X exists; X can only exist if Y exists; and Y does not exist. This is absurd. So there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist. But what does it take?
We spoke of the universe as “the collection of beings in space and time.” Consider one such being: yourself. You exist, and you are, in part at least, material. This means that you are a finite, limited and changing being, you know that right now, as you read this book, you are dependent for your existence on beings outside you. Not your parents or grandparents. They may no longer be alive, but you exist now. And right now you depend on many things in order to exist—for example, on the air you breathe. To be dependent in this way is to be contingent. You exist if something else right now exists.
But not everything can be like this. For then everything would need to be given being, but there would be nothing capable of giving it. There would not exist what it takes for anything to exist. So there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself. What it takes for this thing to exist could only be this thing itself. Unlike changing material reality, there would be no distance, so to speak, between what this thing is and that it is. Obviously the collection of beings changing in space and time cannot be such a thing. Therefore, what it takes for the universe to exist cannot be identical with the universe itself or with a part of the universe.
Question 1: But why should we call this cause “God”? Maybe there is something unknown that grounds the universe of change we live in.
Reply: True. And this “unknown” is God. What we humans know directly is this sensible changing world. We also know that there must exist whatever it takes for something to exist. Therefore, we know that neither this changing universe as a whole nor any part of it can be itself what it takes for the universe to exist. But we have now such direct knowledge of the cause of changing things. We know that there must exist a cause; we know that this cause cannot be finite or material—that it must transcend such limitations. But what this ultimate cause is in itself remains, so far, a mystery.
There is more to be said by reason; and there is very much more God has made known about himself through revelation. But the proofs have given us some real knowledge as well: knowledge that the universe is created; knowledge that right now it is kept in being by a cause unbounded by any material limit, that transcends the kind of being we humans directly know. And that is surely knowledge worth having. We might figure out that someone’s death was murder and no accident, without figuring out exactly who did it and why, and this might leave us frustrated and unsatisfied. But at least we would know what path of questioning to pursue; at least we would know that someone did it.
So it is with the proofs. They let us know that at every moment the being of the universe is the creative act of a Giver—A Giver transcending all material and spiritual limitations. Beyond that, they do not tell us much about what or who this Giver is—but they point in a very definite direction. We know that this Ultimate Reality—the Giver of being—cannot be material. And we know the gift which is given includes personal being: intelligence, will and spirit. The infinite transcendent cause of these things cannot be less than they are, but must be infinitely more. How and in what way we do not know. To some extent this Giver must always remain unknown to human reason. We should never expect otherwise. But reason can at least let us know that “someone did it.” And that is of great value.

Here is another of those arguments which boils down to ‘stuff, therefore god’. I wonder why the author went to so much effort to essentially repeat the same fallacious argument using slightly different words and titles.

The logic starts off okay.

If something exists, there must exist what it takes for that thing to exist.
The universe—the collection of beings in space and time—exists.
Therefore, there must exist what it takes for the universe to exist.

I’m okay with this so far (I’m ignoring the oddly phrased ‘collection of beings’), it does really need some evidential backup to support the premise though. It shouldn’t be assumed to be true just because I agree that it seems reasonable. One should make adequate steps to confirm what one assumes is true before making further assumptions based on it. I’m not even halfway through this list and how many times has that been said?

What it takes for the universe to exist cannot exist within the universe or be bounded by space and time.

This is where it starts to wobble. It seems a reasonable statement on the face of it, but it needs experimental confirmation before it can be asserted as a truth. The bounded by space and time is the critical part. We already know that the time that we experience depends on the matter in the universe. However, the phrasing of that sentence suggests to me that the author thinks that is not the case and that time (and space) may exist outside of the universe, there is some clarity missing. Making more assumptions based on unclear explanations will only lead to greater errors and more confusion.

The argument also assumes that there is indeed something outside of the universe on which the universe depends. Well, more accurately it’s trying to argue that that is indeed the case. Physics hasn’t been able to identify anything that is not within the universe. Our knowledge of how the universe came about is incomplete. All we can be certain of is that the laws that govern matter within the universe do not apply to the inception of the universe and if there is indeed an ‘outside the universe’ those laws certainly will not apply. Yet this argument seems to ignore all of that and carry on with its own conclusions based on arguments that can be observed within the universe. This is a basic error.

So there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which does not exist only if something else exists; something which exists in itself.

Please tell me you saw that bit coming. It should have been obvious. The author is a Christian, so of course the non conditional existing thing is the Christian god, nothing else would be accepted. This really is a case of framing the argument around the already assumed but unevidenced conclusion. Why can’t the non conditional existing thing be the universe or the bigger god that created the Christian god? Both of those suggestions fit the logic. The author would reject those two options because they don’t result in the Christian god. The Christian god is the X that needs no Y and no other option will be discussed or considered.

Twenty Arguments for God – Two – The Argument from Efficient Causality

This post is one of a serious that picks apart the arguments for god that can be found at the link below. This post addresses number 2:

http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm#2

If you don’t want to click over there to read it, the full argument goes like this:

2. The Argument from Efficient Causality

We notice that some things cause other things to be (to begin to be, to continue to be, or both). For example, a man playing the piano is causing the music that we hear. If he stops, so does the music.
Now ask yourself: Are all things caused to exist by other things right now? Suppose they are. That is, suppose there is no Uncaused Being, no God. Then nothing could exist right now. For remember, on the no-God hypothesis, all things need a present cause outside of themselves in order to exist. So right now, all things, including all those things which are causing things to be, need a cause. They can give being only so long as they are given being. Everything that exists, therefore, on this hypothesis, stands in need of being caused to exist.
But caused by what? Beyond everything that is, there can only be nothing. But that is absurd: all of reality dependent—but dependent on nothing! The hypothesis that all being is caused, that there is no Uncaused Being, is absurd. So there must be something uncaused, something on which all things that need an efficient cause of being are dependent.
Existence is like a gift given from cause to effect. If there is no one who has the gift, the gift cannot be passed down the chain of receivers, however long or short the chain may be. If everyone has to borrow a certain book, but no one actually has it, then no one will ever get it. If there is no God who has existence by his own eternal nature, then the gift of existence cannot be passed down the chain of creatures and we can never get it. But we do get it; we exist. Therefore there must exist a God: an Uncaused Being who does not have to receive existence like us—and like every other link in the chain of receivers.
Question 1: Why do we need an uncaused cause? Why could there not simply be an endless series of things mutually keeping each other in being?
Reply: This is an attractive hypothesis. Think of a single drunk. He could probably not stand up alone. But a group of drunks, all of them mutually supporting each other, might stand. They might even make their way along the street. But notice: Given so many drunks, and given the steady ground beneath them, we can understand how their stumblings might cancel each other out, and how the group of them could remain (relatively) upright. We could not understand their remaining upright if the ground did not support them—if, for example, they were all suspended several feet above it. And of course, if there were no actual drunks, there would be nothing to understand.
This brings us to our argument. Things have got to exist in order to be mutually dependent; they cannot depend upon each other for their entire being, for then they would have to be, simultaneously, cause and effect of each other. A causes B, B causes C, and C causes A. That is absurd. The argument is trying to show why a world of caused causes can be given—or can be there—at all. And it simply points out: If this thing can exist only because something else is giving it existence, then there must exist something whose being is not a gift. Otherwise everything would need at the same time to be given being, but nothing (in addition to “everything”) could exist to give it. And that means nothing would actually be.
Question 2: Why not have an endless series of caused causes stretching backward into the past? Then everything would be made actual and would actually be—even though their causes might no longer exist.
Reply: First, if the kalam argument (argument 6) is right, there could not exist an endless series of causes stretching backward into the past. But suppose that such a series could exist. The argument is not concerned about the past, and would work whether the past is finite or infinite. It is concerned with what exists right now.
Even as you read this, you are dependent on other things; you could not, right now, exist without them. Suppose there are seven such things. If these seven things did not exist, neither would you. Now suppose that all seven of them depend for their existence right now on still other things. Without these, the seven you now depend on would not exist—and neither would you. Imagine that the entire universe consists of you and the seven sustaining you. If there is nothing besides that universe of changing, dependent things, then the universe—and you as part of it—could not be. For everything that is would right now need to be given being but there would be nothing capable of giving it. And yet you are and it is. So there must in that case exist something besides the universe of dependent things—something not dependent as they are.
And if it must exist in that case, it must exist in this one. In our world there are surely more than seven things that need, right now, to be given being. But that need is not diminished by there being more than seven. As we imagine more and more of them—even an infinite number, if that were possible—we are simply expanding the set of beings that stand in need. And this need—for being, for existence—cannot be met from within the imagined set. But obviously it has been met, since contingent beings exist. Therefore there is a source of being on which our material universe right now depends.

I hope I’m not the only person who read that and thought ‘This is just a rephrasing of no1 with the focus on existing rather than changing.’. I can see this series getting tedious and boring very quickly. Especially now that I know that no6 (Kalam) is coming and this seemed like a basic version of that.

This argument makes sense on a superficial level, in that things don’t suddenly pop into existence before our eyes. Stuff is generally created from other stuff. Offspring come from parents and the chain never loops back to the start. The argument extrapolates from that to the point that everything within the universe must ultimately be caused by the universe at the start of the chain and therefore the universe has a cause that must be outside the universe. The logic makes sense at face value, but philosophy runs into difficulty when it addresses these questions. This is because the physicists who have spent time working on the very problem of how the universe came into existence say that the laws of physics break down when we rewind to a point very soon after the universe came into being. We currently have no way of explaining beyond that point, but it is being worked on. The argument presented above ignores the hard facts of science and jumps to it’s conclusion with no method of demonstrating its workings. One of the biggest issues with trying to find a cause to the universe is that matter and time are intrinsically related, how we experience time is related to the matter around us (and our velocity with respect to the speed of light, but that’s not relevant to this specific item so I’ll not mention it again in this post). This means that time, as we know and experience it, started at the point that the universe started, which means that it is possible to have a universe that has existed since the dawn of time. It also means that trying to find something that caused the universe, and therefore existed before time began, is pretty much an impossible task. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a go and thankfully scientists are giving it a go, bit by bit we’re gathering new information to try and make some sense of this conundrum. As such, the suggestion that there is a cause of the universe is somewhat presumptuous, especially when there is no current way of confirming that. The premise of the argument works within the confines of our known universe; stuff comes from other stuff, we know this because we can scientifically explain the parent ‘stuff’. Unfortunately, like the laws of physics, this argument falls apart when you get to that critical point close to the big bang. The argument tries to resolve that challenge by claiming there must be a god but posits no way to of detecting that god, we should just accept that it must exist.

We have in this item, the same mistakes and presuppositions as in item one, that there must exist the Christian god who created everything. The argument is worded simplistically and skips over the challenges of reality and ignores what is known to science in a desperate bit to make the desired god be the only available conclusion.

 

Immersed in Creationist Literature

In my last post on my journey into creationism (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/the-making-of-the-adult-creationist/) I mentioned how my final step into fundamental creationism came as the result of a chance conversation and the borrowing of a book.

After that, I purchased many books on the subject, none of which survive in my collection now. Those that I can recall are:

  • Ark Search, self explanatory really, it’s a book about one mans mission to locate the final resting place of Noah’s Ark.
  • Proof?, interesting book this, but I recall it being a bit weak.
  • One very interesting book (whose title I don’t recall) was the personal story of a man who described himself as a scientist. One stand out story from the book was of the miraculous healing of a fracture in his skull. In the book he vividly describes the moment of the healing and how he related to it scientifically. In it he also explains why it accepted the literal creation account, which basically amounted to “it can’t not be literal because then you have to question the interpretation of other parts of the bible”.
  • God, the Big Bang and Richard Dawkins, to be honest I don’t actually recall anything from this book, possibly because it was one of the earliest books I bought.
  • There were many others of course.

There are two key themes that I recall being obsessed with during these early creationist years:

  1. The inerrant authority of the bible. This was mainly accomplished through what is called the Bibliographic Test. Explanations of which can be found at http://www.newmediaministries.org/Bible/Bibliographic_S.html and http://www.ccel.org/contrib/exec_outlines/ca/ca_06.htm
  2. Evolution can’t work because the can’t get fins from legs without having a limb that’s unusable in-between. You can’t have apes and reptiles having a common ancestor because they have different numbers of jaw and ear bones which can only mean some misshapen monster must have existed when one bone was fusing into another.

In my new found confidence on the subject I would pick arguments with atheists and evolutions accepting believers alike. I loved to argue how the flood is responsible for the sediment layers, or that carbon dating is flawed or that the debacle that was Piltdown Man is proof of poor science in all of evolution.

Point two above was my favourite point of attack. Evolution by imperceptible changes eventually brings about something different is all well and good for describing how bones change length or shape, but to change the number of bones between two points required a greater leap of faith; especially if that meant the fusing of a joint or the creation of a new joint. How on earth could an animal be deemed as fit to survive if it was crippled by such an obvious deformity?

For years I happy lived in that world, where the truth of the biblical creation was absolute and the rest of the world had been fooled by evolution. Quite how or why the majority of scientists were wrong I never fully considered, it seems preposterous now that I look back, but when you are so blinkered into knowing you are utterly right, rational thought can take a while to get through.