The Cumulative Argument Approach

I am usually not one to explicitly express my views on things when I write on some subject, but today I think I can say something small with respect to “proofs” of God’s existence. Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) once wrote in his New Essays on Human Understanding (1695) on the subject of proving God’s existence:

I believe. . . that almost all the methods which have been used to prove the existence of God are sound, and could serve the purpose if they were rendered complete. [1]

It is very unlikely today that we would see philosophers take such a heavy approach. In fact, it is often the case that we see philosophers take either (i) “a favorite proof while criticizing others” or, (ii) “maintain, more cautiously, that a particular argument has not been refuted” [2]. However, I tend to side with those philosophers who take the cumulative argument approach: “the combining of independent reasons for embracing a conclusion” [3]. Graham Oppy (2006) for instance offers the following analysis:

If we have two valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a disjunctive argument that also entails the same conclusion. More generally, if we have a large collection of valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a multiply disjunctive argument that also entails the same conclusion. [4]

However, this approach doesn’t come without it’s criticisms. Charles Taliaferro (2012) for instance agrees that “[i]t is certainly right that simply having a greater number of arguments for one position. . . rather than another. . . is not, ipso facto, an advantage” [5]. Yet, it is important to note that “independent lines of reasoning can increase the bona fide cogency of their mutual conclusion” [6]. Take for instance William Lane Craig’s essay (2004) on the ontological argument. With respect to the cosmological argument, the moral argument and the ontological (or conceptualist) argument, Craig argues that “[t]he theistic arguments need not be taken like links in a chain. . . [r]ather they are like links in a coat of chain mail, in which all the links reinforce one another so that the strength of the whole exceeds that of any single link” [7]. So, he writes:

Thus the cosmological argument leads to a metaphysically necessary being which is the ground of existence for any concrete reality, the moral argument to a locus of moral value which must be a metaphysically necessary as the moral value it grounds, and the conceptualist argument to an omniscient, metaphysically necessary intelligence as the foundation of abstract objects. [8]

Craig here is reacting to Anselm’s understanding of his own proof. For, “Anselm had finished a treatise entitled the Monologium, a soliloquy in which he argued for the existence of God by means of moral and cosmological arguments. But Anselm remained dissatisfied with the complexity of his demonstration and yearned to find a single argument which would on its own prove that God exists in all his greatness. It was then that he hit upon the conception of God as “the greatest conceivable being”. . . which provided the key to his new argument” [9].

However, as Craig thinks, “Anselm was wrong in thinking that he had discovered a single argument which, standing independently of all the rest, served to demonstrate God’s existence in all his greatness. Nevertheless, his argument does encapsulate the thrust of all the argument together to show that God, the Supreme Being, exists” [10].

_________________________

Notes:

  • [1] Gottfried Leibniz, New Essays, A VI.vi: RB 438
  • [2] David Blumenfield, “Leibniz’s Ontological and Cosmological Arguments” in The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz, ed. Nicholas Jolley (Cambridge University Press: 1995) p. 353
  • [3] Charles Taliaferro, “The Project of Natural Theology” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig (Wiley-Blackwell: 2012) p. 19
  • [4] Graham Oppy, Arguing About Gods (Cambridge University Press: 2006) p. 5
  • [5] Charles Taliaferro (2012), p. 19
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] William Lane Craig, “The Ontological Argument” in To Everyone An Answer, ed. William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland and Francis Beckwith (IVP Academic: 2004) p. 136
  • [8] Ibid. p. 135
  • [9] Ibid., p. 124
  • [10] Ibid., p. 136
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