Does God Exist? – Part II

In the previous post, we addressed the issues appropriate for having a discussion regarding the existence of God. Now, in this next part regarding the question of God’s existence and what can be said about it, I wish to formulate and extend a particular argument for God’s existence. An argument which, is perhaps one of the oldest and yet most famous a posteriori arguments that has taken place within the great conversation of philosophy. Before I do so however, I wish to only clarify a few things here and from the previous post.

Particularly, the goal of this series is to not necessarily be “agnostic friendly.” Not in the sense that agnostics and their opinions on these issues are not welcome, or that I am personally against agnostics as people, but rather that their position in respect to God’s existence is one that doesn’t own up to intellectual responsibility demanded on their behalf. In other words, it is virtually undeniable that the question of God’s existence is a knowledge issue – i.e., a particular kind of knowledge issue. Theists claim to have knowledge in respect to the proposition that “God exists,” and likewise with atheists in the negative fashion of that same proposition. Agnostics on the other hand abandon the knowledge issue altogether and do not wish to speak on the subject.

I respect in a certain sense this degree of humility that the agnostic asserts in regards to God’s existence – that he has observed the arguments from both sides and simply cannot make up his mind, or that he is too ignorant to really make a decision on the question. However, whichever one it may be, the problem is still unavoidable that the given evidence from both sides still demands a verdict. Peter Kreeft (1993) offers three practical ways we can properly weigh the evidence:

  • (1) We must be totally honest and try to have motives as pure and as passionate as possible.
  • (2) We must all look at all the evidence on both sides, and not focus on only one side or only one part of the evidence.
  • (3) We are not reduced to passive reasoning and learning; we can also preform active experiments.

I take it that (1) might be the most problematic suggestion in terms of embodying what it tries to express. However, I do not think that our practice of passion and honesty is far from our grasp in respect to this issue. As Kreeft explains:

[T]o deeply desire to know the truth for its own sake, regardless of the consequences, however uncertain and fearful, however personally inconvenient these may be. Honesty requires something from both the intellect and the will, but it begins in the will, in a resolve. Honesty with oneself is difficult – often much more difficult than honesty with others. [ …] But unless both sides begin here, with an unqualified “I will” to honesty and truth, whatever it may turn out to be, there is no hope of really settling this issue, or any other, and debate becomes a mere entertainment, a sham. [1]

Thus, I think the question is important for the reason that “the idea of God is either a fact, like sand, or a fantasy, like Santa” [2]. Therefore, this “either-or” mindset that I think is appropriate for the question before us leads to eschatological or thanatological importance. In other words, at the end of our lives when we die, we will either meet God or we will not. As Kreeft and his analogy points out, “It obviously concerns us to know ahead of time which is the case, just as it concerns one who is falling to know whether there is a fireman’s net below or just a concrete street” [3].

This is a notable and distinctive quality found within the thought of French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s work, Pensees (“Thoughts”). As he writes:

“Either God is or he is not.” But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager?  [4]

This point is important from Pascal because we are not merely observers of this grand scheme but are also participators. The reality of death motivates us to submit our concerns as to the truth behind this question, and honesty surely is the best place to start.

 

II

To state finally and somewhat quickly, I am trying to frame this post – and posts – so as to make their sections somewhat independent of one another. In other words, you are not required at part 4 to go back to part 2 in order to better understand a particular conversation going on in 4. However, I do believe that wherever you start in the parts of this series, part 1 is only particularly important because it provides a proper framework for understanding the structural arguments of the preceding parts (although, it is still not necessary because I am not one to be tedious).

Thus, you are even more than welcome, for instance, to skip this section and even the one before it and simply move ahead to the following sections that more relevantly address the question at hand – i.e., the argument being used.

The Cosmological Argument

The argument I first wish to examine is the Cosmological Argument for God’s existence. I think it is perhaps one of the more simpler arguments to understand and runs through an easily remembered logical scheme so as to provide sufficient provoking of thought and consideration for believer and unbeliever alike. First we must ask, why is it called the Cosmological Argument?

As defined by atheist George H. Smith (1979), Cosmological Arguments attempt “to demonstrate the existence of god by applying philosophical or scientific principles to a basic fact of the universe – a fact, that is claimed, that cannot be explained without reference to a supernatural being”  [5]. Otherwise stated (to use the language of Alexander Pruss), the Cosmological Argument looks at some given cosmic feature of the universe – such as contingent/dependent (this will be explained later) beings or the fact of motion – and “calls out” for an explanation of these things. This explanation by which, is best explained in terms of the activity of what’s known as a First Cause.

However, it is important to understand that Cosmological Arguments are families of arguments that seek to demonstrate the existence of a First Cause as an explanation for the existence of the cosmos. Thus, one contemporary and notably popular Cosmological Argument runs simply as follows:

  • (1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  • (2) The universe began to exist.
  • (3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is known as the kalam Cosmological Argument. Popularized by philosopher William Lane Craig (1979), this argument has shared many places of considerable discussion among contemporary philosophers and theologians today. However, in defending the argument, it is usually best to examine premise (2) first rather than (1), due to (2)’s controversial discussion on certain cosmogonic theories. As Craig (2012) writes,

[T]his is clearly the more controversial claim and since some attempts to subvert (1) are based upon cosmogonic theories – the discussion of which would be premature prior to their introduction in our treatment of (2). [6]

Thus, premise (2) takes upon many philosophical evidences – to address the impossibility that the universe is eternal – and scientific ones – to gain support from contemporary Big Bang cosmology – so as to maintain an air-tight deduction to the argument’s conclusion: “The universe has a cause.” However, let us first address the question of whether or not the universe is eternal. Since, as it seems, the argument’s conclusion regarding the existence of a First Cause hinges upon the assumption that the universe is not eternal in the past – but actually began a finite time ago, and has a cause of its existence.

 

The Impossibility of Infinity in Reality

Consider this analogy: Let’s say that you are in a library. This library happens to contain hundreds upon thousands upon millions of books – in fact, this library contains an infinite amount of books, so as to say that there is no “last book.” Suppose for instance that we labeled each book with a natural number ranging, from 1. . . 2. . . 3. . . up to infinity. Thus, now let us take all of these books as a collective set – we will call this set an actual infinity.  If these books (collectively taken) are actually infinite, then we cannot add another book onto the set. Since, all the numbers on the books are actual – i.e., we cannot add another book to this infinite set. As Craig notices in respect to trying to add a new book with another number:

Because the collection is an actual infinity, this means that every possible natural number is printed on some book. Therefore, it would be impossible to add another book to this library. For what would be the number of the new book? Clearly there is no number to assign to it [ … ] Therefore, there would be no new number for the new book. But this is absurd, since entities that exist in reality can be numbered. [7]

Furthermore consider the remarks (coin analogy) made by Craig in his debate with Peter Millican at the University of Birmingham (see 00:38-2:41):

In other words, past events throughout the universe’s history (or, events before the present moment) would have to themselves be eternal, if the universe was actually infinite. Therefore, we would never reach the present moment. Consider philosopher J.P. Moreland’s (1993) exposition of this point:

Now if one cannot cross an actual infinite, then the past must have been infinite. If it were infinite, then to come to the present moment, one would have had to have traversed an actual infinite to get here, which is impossible. Without a first event, there could be no second, third, or any specifiable number of events including the present one. Not only could one never complete the jump, one could never even get started. [8]

Thus, it has been stated that we have adequate philosophical reasons for affirming that

  • (a’) The universe began a finite time ago.

Furthermore, with everything considered, we can possibly state the following argument:

  • (1) One can’t traverse an actually infinite number of events by successive addition.
  • (2) To get to the present moment, one would have to have traversed an actual infinite.
  • (3) But the past has been realized.
  • (4) So there must have been a first event.
  • (5) This event must have been spontaneously generated by an unchanging, timeless, and free situation.

Furthermore,

  • (5′) It is unreasonable to say that the first event was uncaused.
  • (5*) Agent causation is a reasonable explanation.

Further support for (5) I think could be noted from a mere understanding of the word “universe.” For instance, it can be agreed that the universe, by definition, includes all of physical reality. Hence, the cause of the universe must be causally prior to the universe’s existence. Therefore, the cause of the universe transcends (or is above) space and time. Craig thence argues for a personal Creator “who exists changelessly and independently prior to creation and in time subsequent to creation” [8].

____________________________

Notes:

  • [1] Peter Kreeft, “Choice of a Lifetime” in Does God Exist? The Debate Between Theists and Atheists, J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen (Promotheus Books: 1993) p. 286
  • [2] Ibid., p. 11
  • [3] Ibid., p. 19
  • [4] Quoted from Reason and Responsibility, ed. Joel Feinberg and Russ Shafer-Landau (Thomson and Wadsworth: 2005) p. 115
  • [5] George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (Promotheus: 1979) p. 235
  • [6] William L. Craig and James D. Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed.  J.P Moreland and William L. Craig (Wiley-Blackwell: 2012) p. 103
  • [7] William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Barnes & Noble: 1979) p. 65
  • [8] Moreland and Nielsen (1993), p. 37
  • [9] William Lane Craig (1979), pp. 150-152
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