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36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

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The title of this post is also the title of a recent book by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. According to the website for The Edge Foundation,

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, known to Edge readers as a philosopher who has interesting things to say about Gödel and Spinoza, among others, enters into this conversation, taking on these and wider themes, and pushing the envelope by crossing over into the realm of fiction.

Goldstein isn’t the first novelist to appear on Edge, nor the first to discuss religion. In October 1989, the novelist Ken Kesey came to New York spoke to The Reality Club. “As I’ve often told Ginsberg,” he began, “you can’t blame the President for the state of the country, it’s always the poets’ fault. You can’t expect politicians to come up with a vision, they don’t have it in them. Poets have to come up with the vision and they have to turn it on so it sparks and catches hold.”

It’s in this spirit that Edge presents a brief excerpt from the first chapter, and the nonfiction appendix from 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein.


Included in the review by John Brockman is an excerpt from the first chapter along with a non-fiction appendix that lists the 36 arguments for the existence of God to which the book title refers. The latter includes analysis of the ‘flaws’. I’ll give one example here. The appendix discusses the cosmological argument thusly:

1. The Cosmological Argument

1. Everything that exists must have a cause.

2. The universe must have a cause (from 1).

3. Nothing can be the cause of itself.

4. The universe cannot be the cause of itself (from 3).

5. Something outside the universe must have caused the universe (from 2 & 4).

6. God is the only thing that is outside of the universe.

7. God caused the universe (from 5 & 6).

8. God exists.

FLAW 1: can be crudely put: Who caused God? The Cosmological Argument is a prime example of the Fallacy of Passing the Buck: invoking God to solve some problem, but then leaving unanswered that very same problem when applied to God himself. The proponent of the Cosmological Argument must admit a contradiction to either his first premise — and say that though God exists, he doesn’t have a cause — or else a contradiction to his third premise — and say that God is self-caused. Either way, the theist is saying that his premises have at least one exception, but is not explaining why God must be the unique exception, otherwise than asserting his unique mystery (the Fallacy of Using One Mystery To Pseudo-Explain Another). Once you admit of exceptions, you can ask why the universe itself, which is also unique, can’t be the exception. The universe itself can either exist without a cause, or else can be self-caused . Since the buck has to stop somewhere, why not with the universe?

FLAW 2: The notion of “cause” is by no means clear, but our best definition is a relation that holds between events that are connected by physical laws. Knocking the vase off the table caused it to crash to the floor; smoking three packs a day caused his lung cancer. To apply this concept to the universe itself is to misuse the concept of cause, extending it into a realm in which we have no idea how to use it. This line of skeptical reasoning, based on the incoherent demands we make of the concept of cause, was developed by David Hume.

COMMENT: The Cosmological Argument, like the Argument from the Big Bang, and The Argument from the Intelligibility of the Universe, are expressions of our cosmic befuddlement at the question: why is there something rather than nothing? The late philosopher Sydney Morgenbesser had a classic response to this question: “And if there were nothing? You’d still be complaining!”

This analysis doesn’t work because the argument is mis-stated. The first premise is not “anything which exists must have a cause”, but “anything which begins to exist must have a cause”, which makes a huge difference in the analysis. Well known theistic philosopher William Lane Craig states the Kalaam Cosmological Argument this way:
Premise 1 – Anything that begins to exist must have a cause
Premise 2 – The universe began to exist
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe must have a cause.

So stated, this is a deductively valid argument in that if both premises are true, the conclusion logically follows. The question is are the premises true? I don’t know of anyone who has refuted this form of the argument, though there is debate on premise 2. Premise 1 seems unproblematic. The analysis presented in the appendix simply does not address the correct form of the argument, but gives the impression that the cosmological argument is easily refuted. I guess you can make that claim when you mis-characterize an argument.

I’ll leave it to readers here at UD to discuss some of the other analyses of the 36 arguments presented in the appendix. Its interesting reading for sure.

36 Replies to “36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction

  1. 1
    Barb says:

    The Teleological Argument:
    FLAW: Darwin showed how the process of replication could give rise to the illusion of design without the foresight of an actual designer.

    Um, if something appears to be designed or has the illusion of design, why not state clearly that it was designed?

    Replicators make copies of themselves, which make copies of themselves, and so on, giving rise to an exponential number of descendants.

    Yet at no time do these replicators change from one species to another.

    In any finite environment the replicators must compete for the energy and materials necessary for replication. Since no copying process is perfect, errors will eventually crop up, and any error that causes a replicator to reproduce more efficiently than its competitors will result in that line of replicators predominating in the population.

    Or it will result in a grossly deformed mutant replicator, which will die prematurely. Mutations are generally harmful. Look at it this way: would you allow a surgeon to operate on you if he made 20 mistakes for every 1 good operation he performed? How about 10,000 mistakes for every 1 good operation?

    After many generations, the dominant replicators will appear to have been designed for effective replication, whereas all they have done is accumulate the copying errors which in the past did lead to effective replication. The fallacy in the argument, then is Premise 1 (and as a consequence, Premise 3, which depends on it): parts of a complex object serving a complex function do not, in fact, require a designer.

    Dr. Behe correctly pointed out in his “Darwin’s Black Box” that nobody has ever successfully disproved Paley’s teleological watchmaker argument. He’s right. They may ignore it, but it’s still there. If something as simple as a watch requires a designer, then surely something as complex as the universe does as well. That is simple logic.

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    3. The Argument from Design

    A. The Classical Teleological Argument

    1. Whenever there are things that cohere only because of a purpose or function (for example, all the complicated parts of a watch that allow it to keep time), we know that they had a designer who designed them with the function in mind; they are too improbable to have arisen by random physical processes. (A hurricane blowing through a hardware store could not assemble a watch.)

    Hint’s of Paley anyone?

    This is not the classical teleological argument, I’m not even sure that it’s Paley’s argument (which likewise is not to be confused with the classical teleological argument).

    The classical teleological argument has nothing to do with “complicated parts.”

    Kenneth Miller makes this same mistake:

    The rise of Christianity established for its believers that the ultimate designer was God the creator. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of Christian philosophers, made this argument explicit: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer. This straightforward argument is one of Aquinas’s five ways to demonstrate the existence of God, and was adapted brilliantly in Rev. William Paley’s 1802 book, Natural Theology

    Edward Fester writes:

    Aquinas’s first three Ways are all variations on what is known as the “cosmological argument ” for the existence of God ,,, The Fourth Way is sometimes called the “henological argument” … The Fifth Way, in turn, is commonly taken to be a version of the “teleological argument” … Etymologically speaking, this is an apt name for the proof, but it is also potentially misleading given that when most contemporary philosophers hear the expression “teleological argument” they naturally think of the famous “design argument,” associated historically with William Paley (1743-1805), and defended today by “Intelligent Design” theorists critical of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Indeed, many writers (such as Richard Dawkins) assume that the Fifth Way is just a variation on the “design argument.” But in fact Aquinas’s argument is radically different from Paley’s, and the standard objections directed against the latter have no force against the former.

    – Edward Fester, Aquinas (p. 110)

  3. 3
    DonaldM says:

    Mung, when your purpose is to make it appear as if all these arguments (read: old canards) have been dealt with and are easily refuted, then I guess little niggling details like presenting the correct form of the argument are inconsequential.

  4. 4
    DonaldM says:

    Since Mung brought it up, here is a summary of Aquinas’s version of the telological argument from his Summa Theologica.

    “The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things that lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”

    If you take out the parenthetical examples from the version in the Appendix, it doesn’t differ too much in substance from this one, I don’t think. The real problem is in the analysis or the “Flaw” section as Barb pointed out. Whether or not Darwin showed that “the process of replication could give rise to the illusion of design without the foresight of an actual designer” is even true is itself part of the issue. Here, the writer of the Appendix just assumes it…otherwise known as the fallacy of “begging the question”…speaking of “flaws”! Even if there are some minor differences in the presentation of the TA in the Appendix versus Aquinas, the real flaw exists in the analysis, not the argument.

  5. 5
    vjtorley says:

    For shame, Professor Goldstein. I fault you on three counts:

    (1) willful mis-characterization of the modal cosmological argument (setting up a “straw man” version which is easily refuted);

    (2) not having bothered to read any intelligent defenses of the argument since Bertrand Russell’s famous debate with Fr. Frederick Copleston in 1948; and

    (3) sheer lack of intellectual curiosity, as shown by your total inability to put yourself in the shoes of those whose arguments you criticize, and make a serious attempt to re-construct their reasons for believing in the argument in the first place.

    Those are serious charges to make against a Professor of Philosophy, and yet I make them nonetheless. My readers can judge for themselves if my charges are justified.

    In short, Professor Goldstein: if you’re going to criticize a widely-respected philosophical argument for God’s existence, academic courtesy demands that you make sure you criticize the best version of it that you can possibly formulate.

    First, I have to say that I don’t know of any modern proponent of the modal cosmological argument (a.k.a. the contingency argument) who asserts that “Everything that exists must have a cause.” Traditional proponents of the argument, such as Aquinas and al-Farabi, regarded God as an Uncaused Cause, not a self-caused cause. In fact, Jean-Luc Marion, in an essay entitled “Thomas Aquinas and Onto-Theology” in Mystics: Presence and Aporia (eds. Michael Kessler and Christian Sheppard; University of Chicago Press, 2003) provides detailed references which establish this very point (p. 71, footnote 47):

    Respectively, Summa Theologiae Ia, q.2, a.3, resp: “Nec est possibile quod aliquid sit causa efficiens sui ipsius, quia sic esset prius seipso, quod est impossibile” and also Contra Gentiles I, sec. 18, n.4; or Summa Theologiae Ia., q. 19, a.5 respectively. The denial of any possible causa sui was not restricted to St. Thomas Aquinas, but a unanimous statement from St. Anselm (Monologion VI) to Suarez (Disputationes Metaphysicae I, sec. 1, n. 27; XXIX sec. 1, n. 20, 25:11 and 26:27). See my studies on that issue in Sur la theologie blanche de Descartes, sec. 18, 427ff., and “Entre analogie et principe de raison: la causa sui” in Descartes: Objecter et repondre ed. J.-M. Beyssade and J.-L. Marion (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1994), 308-14). (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

    (Sections of the book can be accessed online at http://books.google.com/books?.....38;f=false ).

    Marion explains in his essay (pp. 56-58) precisely why Aquinas found the notion of a self-caused Being (causa sui) so repugnant: for God (and God alone), essence and existence are necessarily identical. Why? Because for every kind of contingent being, its essence is in some way distinct from its existence, as shown by the fact that I can know what it is – e.g. a four-winged bird – without knowing whether such a being exists. A self-caused Being, if it existed, would have to be one whose essence made it exist – i.e. one whose essence was in some way distinct from and (at least logically) prior to its existence. But a being whose essence was in any way distinct from its existence would still be contingent. Hence God cannot be self-caused.

    It is true that Descartes and Spinoza characterized God as a self-caused being, despite the inherent absurdity of the idea. Marion, in the essay I cited above, traces this back to a flawed concept of God on Descartes’ part. In any case, neither Descartes nor Spinoza is cited by modern defenders of the modal cosmological argument. Moreover, they were not the originators of the modal cosmological argument.

    Instead of asserting that God is self-caused, proponents of the modal cosmological argument typically base their argument for God as an Uncaused Cause on premises like the following:

    (i) a rationality norm: that for anything which can be conceived of as ceasing to exist, it is perfectly reasonable to seek a cause that explains its existence;

    (ii) that all demands for an explanation must stop somewhere, as an infinite regress of explanations is (by definition) no explanation at all;

    (iii) in any case, the entire Universe, viewed as an ensemble of physical entities conforming to certain regularities which we call laws of nature, can still be conceived of as ceasing to exist, which means that it is perfectly reasonable to ask whether it too has a cause; hence

    (iv) we are driven to the supposition that there must exist something which cannot be conceived of as ceasing to exist. For such a Being, there is not – and by definition there cannot be – a causal explanation.

    Notice that the concept of God employed by this argument is a constructive one: the meaning of “God” only emerges during the course of the argument, as we are forced to the conclusion that an Uncaused Cause must exist. Thus Hume’s objection that we can also conceive of God’s non-existence, misses the point: we simply don’t have a pre-specified, a priori concept of what God is.

    Professor Goldstein’s mis-characterization of the cosmological argument seems to have been borrowed almost verbatim from Bertrand Russell. In his essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian?” (in Why I Am Not a Christian: and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, essays by Russell ed. by Paul Edwards (New York: Simon and Schuster [a Clarion Book], 1957), pp. 3-23), Russell mis-states the first-cause argument as follows:

    …everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.

    According to Russell, the fallacy in the argument is that “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.” What’s more, “If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God” (op. cit., pp. 6-7).

    I can only conclude that Professor Goldstein is poorly acquainted with the modern literature on the modal cosmological argument. Had she wished to do so, she could have read Robert Koons’ A New Look at the Cosmological Argument (1996) which is available online. For a less technical exposition, she could have availed herself of Koons’ online lectures on Western Theism (1998).

    Another book that I would recommend for a better understanding of the cosmological argument is Germain Grisez’s book, Beyond the New Theism (University of Notre Dame Press, 1975, ISBN-13 978-0268005672). It helped me a lot in my undergraduate days.

    Concerning Russell’s objections to the cosmological argument, Robert Koons writes in his article, A New Look at the Cosmological Argument : “Almost fifty years later, Russell’s objections seem quite dated, dependent on a form of logical empiricism that has not weathered the intervening years
    well.”

    The claim that the notion of a cause is best defined as “a relation that holds between events that are connected by physical laws” is dubious, as it dogmatically excludes the possibility of singular causes (event A caused event B) which cannot be subsumed under any law-like generalization.

    Koons, in the article I cited above, is far less dogmatic. His argument rests upon three assertions about causes and effects: a cause and its effect must both be actual; they must be distinct from each other, with no overlapping parts (“separate existences” in Hume’s terminology), and finally, every wholly contingent fact has a cause.

    Moreover, Dr. Goldstein’s claim that “[t]o apply this concept to the universe itself is to misuse the concept of cause” is tantamount to claiming that the only good explanations are physical ones. This is a question-begging assertion. I have to ask: why? And what does “physical” mean anyway?

    For Koons, the rationale of seeking a causal explanation for the Universe as a whole is as follows (pp. 13-14):

    We know that all (or nearly all) wholly contingent facts have causes, the world is such a wholly contingent fact, and therefore we may conclude that the world has a cause, unless some relevant consideration pointing to the opposite conclusion can be produced…

    I am not claiming that the axioms of causality I am appealing to are known by us prior to their application to the world of experience. Instead, I appeal to our success in finding causal explanations as empirical evidence for these generalizations.

    By the way, if Dr. Goldstein is correct in saying that the term “cause” has meaning only within our universe, then we can rule out the multiverse in advance as a valid explanation of any feature of our universe – which means that the standard atheistic response to the fine-tuning argument is invalidated.

    Finally, Dr. Goldstein writes:

    The Cosmological Argument, like the Argument from the Big Bang, and The Argument from the Intelligibility of the Universe, are expressions of our cosmic befuddlement at the question: why is there something rather than nothing?

    Nonsense. We cannot answer that question. But we can answer the more modest question: what kind of “something” would it be unreasonable to seek an explanation for? The answer is: something incapable of coming into or going out of existence. A “something” of that sort simply is (Exodus 3:14). The universe, however, is not a “something” of that sort. Everything about it – its physical parameters, laws, initial conditions, size and duration – screams: contingent!

    It takes a profoundly incurious mind not to ask for an explanation of a universe like our own.

    On a lighter note, may I suggest that Professor Goldstein purchase a copy of “Who Made God?” by Professor Edgar Andrews (EP Books, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-85234-707-2) or else have a look at the Web site http://whomadegod.org and in particular, the chapter, Sooty and the universe , which is a highly entertaining excerpt from Professor Andrews’ book.

  6. 6
    Mark Frank says:

    Premise 1 seems unproblematic.

    A lot of good philosophers do find premise 1 problematic – so maybe a bit of justification would appropriate. You only have to look at the Stanford Encyclopedia entry to see that it is far from accepted that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. And if there are any exceptions, the universe seems like a good candidate for being one of them – the whole event being a bit out of the every day.

  7. 7
    zeroseven says:

    Barb,

    ‘Um, if something appears to be designed or has the illusion of design, why not state clearly that it was designed?’

    Um, I think you have answered your own question.

  8. 8
    StephenB says:

    —Mark Frank: “A lot of good philosophers do find premise 1 problematic –”

    Anyone who thinks that something can begin to exist without a cause is not a good philosopher.

    —so maybe a bit of justification would appropriate.”

    One doesn’t use rationality and evidence to justify the point; rationality and evidence depend on the point. We don’t reason our way to self evident truths; we reason our way from them. If the statement isn’t true [anything that begins to exist must have a cause], science, reason, and rational discourse would be impossible. Indeed, it is not even possible to THINK without assuming it.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    If you take out the parenthetical examples from the version in the Appendix, it doesn’t differ too much in substance from this one, I don’t think.

    Yes, it does. Substantially. As you point out in quoting Aquinas, the classical teleological argument has nothing to do with living creatures or their complexity at all, therefore replication is a non-starter as a rebuttal.

    Whether or not Darwin showed that “the process of replication could give rise to the illusion of design without the foresight of an actual designer” is even true is itself part of the issue.

    Whether it is true or not is irrelevant and is therefore not itself part of the issue.

    As an aside, even if we deal only with the existence of replicators, they still act toward an end, and the teleological argument therefore still holds.

    Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”

    This is the conclusion. It follows quite logically and irresistably from his premises. To defeat it requires that one attack the premises. The article does not do this, and thus it does not address itself to the classical teleological argument at all.

    But then, I already said that.

  10. 10
    NZer says:

    IIRC, William Lane Craig says that he was working on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he was surprised that atheists in fact went after premise 1, rather than premise 2 as he has expected.

  11. 11
    Matteo says:

    I reckon that anyone who believes that something can begin to exist without a cause for its beginning to exist can believe just about anything. Hence atheism?

  12. 12
    Barb says:

    zeroseven: I am happy to state that something appears designed. Please inform the people teaching my son biology, as they are the ones who have a problem with it.

  13. 13
    StephenB says:

    —NZer: “IIRC, William Lane Craig says that he was working on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he was surprised that atheists in fact went after premise 1, rather than premise 2 as he has expected.”

    He should visit this site. There he will find Darwinists insisting that something can come from nothing— or that causation is non-negotiable when it serves their purpose and negotiable when it doesn’t—or that something can begin to exist without a cause—or that the law of non-contradiction does not apply to the real world—or that the whole can be less than one of its parts—or that matter can investigate itself, —or my favorite— that it is absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth. It is with these malformed tools of reason that they critique ID without providing a shred of evidence for their own position. No wonder they are always on offense and never on defense.

  14. 14
    vjtorley says:

    For a good online treatment of Aquinas’ five ways, see Professor Christopher Martin’s Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations . Martin’s treatment of the Fifth Way is excellent.

    For those willing to contemplate the possibility that the universe may have had an uncaused beginning, I have a question: what if it turned out that the universe in its initial state was extremely complex – in fact, more complex than a human brain? Would you still be more inclined to say that it popped into existence, than that it was caused?

  15. 15
    Mark Frank says:

    #10

    William Lane Craig says that he was working on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he was surprised that atheists in fact went after premise 1, rather than premise 2 as he has expected.

    The two premises are intimately linked. If you have an event for which the concept of causality cannot be applied then you have an event without a cause.

  16. 16
    Mark Frank says:

    #14

    For those willing to contemplate the possibility that the universe may have had an uncaused beginning, I have a question: what if it turned out that the universe in its initial state was extremely complex – in fact, more complex than a human brain?

    The trouble about this question is the thought experiment carries a whole lot of baggage with it. Cosmology is way beyond me, but I think that physics tells us that any complex state (in the sense of being heterogeneous) cannot be the first moment in time – being the first moment in time entails being a singularity which has no real characteristics.

  17. 17
    Mark Frank says:

    Re #15 – my error. I was confusing premise 2 and flaw 2. I see nothing wrong with premise 2.

  18. 18
    DonaldM says:

    vjtorley (in #5)

    In short, Professor Goldstein: if you’re going to criticize a widely-respected philosophical argument for God’s existence, academic courtesy demands that you make sure you criticize the best version of it that you can possibly formulate.

    I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the pattern I’ve often observed in both online forum discussions as well as in many of the popular books (and even some of the scholarly ones) is for the ID critics or the atheists to not present the strongest formulations of the arguments they wish to refute. Thus Dawkins breaks his arm patting himself on the back when he dismisses all 5 of Aquinas’s arguments in about, oh, 4-5 pages in his The God Delusion. The same pattern is often the case with ID critics who misrepresent the actual arguments of ID proponents and then claim victory when they’ve demolished their little straw man.

    NZer (in #10)

    IIRC, William Lane Craig says that he was working on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he was surprised that atheists in fact went after premise 1, rather than premise 2 as he has expected.

    Yes, this is correct. He went on to say the confusion seems to arise because the critics do not have an accurate concept of what nothing is. WLC discussed how some scientists and philosophers talk about things like virtual particles (which aren’t even known to be actual as opposed to theoretical)arising in a vacuum as evidence that its possible the universe spontaneously arose out of the pre-cosmos vacuum. But, he argues, such a vacuum isn’t “nothing”, but a sea of flucuating energy, raising the question of where the energy came from. (oh those pesky infinite regresses!) Real nothingness is just that – absence of absolutely everything and anything at all. From such a state of affairs, nothing would arise. WLC’s point is that if one has a proper understanding of what nothingness really amounts to, then premise one in the Kalaam argument ought to be unproblematic.

    Mung (in #9)

    Yes, it does. Substantially. As you point out in quoting Aquinas, the classical teleological argument has nothing to do with living creatures or their complexity at all, therefore replication is a non-starter as a rebuttal.

    I do see your point. However, replication doesn’t necessarily have to apply to just biological systems. In the Summa I quoted above Aquinas states “We see that things that lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.” I took a broad view of this as an example of replication of a pattern. So what I was trying to say is that if you remove the parenthetical references to biological systems from the formulation given in the Appendix, (and if “replication” could apply to patterns in general), then the formulation isn’t too far off the mark. Having said that, I do see your point.

    However, the real issue is, as I said earlier, in the analysis given in the Appendix.

  19. 19
    zeroseven says:

    Barb, my point is that it’s a huge jump to say that just because something “appears” to be designed that it is. I wouldn’t expect any biology teacher to make that sort of unscientific leap. The sun “appears” to revolve around the earth. And the “illusion” of design means just that – an illusion.

  20. 20
    Mung says:

    zeroseven responds to Barb:

    Barb, my point is that it’s a huge jump to say that just because something “appears” to be designed that it is.

    I don’t think it’s a great jump at all. In our experience, most things that appear to be designed, actually are.

    It’s a much greater jump to say that for something which appears to be designed, the appeareance of design is just an illusion.

    I wouldn’t expect any biology teacher to make that sort of unscientific leap.

    What on earth is unscientific about the observation that in our experience things which appear to be designed, usually are?

    And then what is so unscientific about an inference that something which appears to be designed, actually is designed? That is how science works.

    I would expect a biology teacher to know this and explain it, not accuse their students of having illusions.

    The sun “appears” to revolve around the earth.

    A really poor analogy. Give us one that has the appearance of being designed, but isn’t.

    And the “illusion” of design means just that – an illusion.

    The “illusion” of design doesn’t mean anything. It’s a denial of valid scientific inferential reasoning.

    Barb, there are pleny of books out there by people who accept evolution who admit to the presence of design. You mighth collect soem quotes from such books. You might then ask your son’s teachers why they talk out of both sides of their mouth and explain that your son finds it altogether confusing when they say things and then deny that the words they used actually mean what they say.

  21. 21
    olin says:

    Actually, I view premise 6 in the longer version of the cosmological argument to be a bigger problem: ” God is the only thing that is outside of the universe.” That implies that “God exists,” and hence the whole argument is circular. Certainly, there is no way to know that God is the only thing outside the universe. Furthermore, the term “thing” itself is vague in any form of the argument.

  22. 22
    zeroseven says:

    Mung,

    “A really poor analogy. Give us one that has the appearance of being designed, but isn’t.”

    How can I do that – don’t you think everything is designed?

  23. 23
    DonaldM says:

    zeroseven in #22. Interesting question. Before it can be answered where design falls in the conceptual hierarchy needs to be established. But,exactly where design falls in the conceptual hierarchy of science has not received a whole of attention in discussions of the philosophy of science, unlike, say, the uniformity principle (UP). Most philosophers of science would probably agree that the UP is as foundational a principle of science as you’re likely to find, but is not itself derived from the methods of science, as those very methods depend on the UP in order for results to have meaning.

    What if it were the case that Design is on the same level, or one level above the UP? Put another way, what if the UP is derived from a larger design principle (DP). Nature is uniform because it is designed to be uniform. If that were the case, then, ultimately, yes, everything is designed, at least in a broad sense.

    My take on Aquinas’s version of the teleological argument is that he may have recognized this DP as being nearly self-evident (hence his statement that

    We see that things that lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end.

    I think in that statement Aquinas was referring to a larger DP, even though he might not have called it that.

  24. 24
    Mung says:

    I think in that statement Aquinas was referring to a larger DP, even though he might not have called it that.

    Could be close. It’s sort of an argument from regularity where one can at best expect chaos. Why do things behave in a regular/predictable way?

  25. 25
    vjtorley says:

    Olin (#21)

    Thank you for your post. You wrote:

    Actually, I view premise 6 in the longer version of the cosmological argument to be a bigger problem: “God is the only thing that is outside of the universe.” That implies that “God exists,” and hence the whole argument is circular.

    You’re perfectly correct, if you’re referring to Professor Goldstein’s mischievous mis-representation of the cosmological argument. Few atheists are capable of stating the case for theism fairly. (Bradley Monton is one exception that comes to mind.)

    In fact, no proponent of the cosmological argument has ever used such a question-begging premise as #6. If you check out Professor Robert Koons’ very readable online History of Western Theism you can ascertain this for yourself.

  26. 26
    Upright BiPed says:

    Off topic question for vjtorley…

    Did you not recently have a conversation on UD that centered around the idea (please forgive the substandard recall) that something cannot change itself…the conversation was something to the effect that (geeez) a thing cannot change itself, but must have two or more parts (?) in order to have such a change…

    I know that sounds simply crazy….but I did not bookmark it and now would very much like to review your conversation.

    Thanks.

  27. 27
    avocationist says:

    So once you understand the meaning of true nothingness, there are just two possible explanations for existence: That a universe popped into existence from absolute nothingness, or that there is something uncaused and which is therefore existence itself.

    The first is absurd, and the second is a mystery. We cannot fathom it, yet it becomes a logical necessity. Once clearly understood (and it is an argument of logic and not one of spiritual feeling) all doubts about the existence of God cease, and not only cease but can never again arise.

    However, I do not agree with this:

    “a cause and its effect must both be actual; they must be distinct from each other, with no overlapping parts (”separate existences” in Hume’s terminology),a cause and its effect must both be actual; they must be distinct from each other, with no overlapping parts (”separate existences” in Hume’s terminology),”

    I see no reason for this, nor do I even see how it can be so. Everything must arise out of God, and remain within God. Without God nothing can exist. If something could exist as separate from God it would have power indeed! If it were separate and without overlap, how would God reach it?

  28. 28
    olin says:

    Hmm, then I see then the cosmological argument as problematic as as argument for God. If the only conclusion is that the universe must have a cause, and there is nothing to indicate that God is that cause, then it’s a fairly limited argument. That is, the cause could be natural or supernatural, and hence, it isn’t much of an argument for or against a supernatural being.

  29. 29
    vjtorley says:

    avocationist (#27)

    Dr. Robert Koons provides an answer to your question about separate existences in his article, A New Look at the Cosmological Argument (page 5):

    Axiom 6 is intended to capture Hume’s insight that a cause and its effect must be “separate existences”. The language of mereology, when applied to facts, enables us to state Hume’s principle precisely: a cause must not overlap its effect. It is very important to bear in mind that Axiom 6 does not require that a cause must not overlap its effect in space or time: it is only mereological overlap (the having of a common part) that is ruled out. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

    So there you have it. “Separate” does not mean “able to exist on its own.” It simply means that God and His creation have no common parts – i.e. pantheism is false. Perhaps a better word than “separate” would be “distinct.”

    You are quite right to say that “Without God nothing can exist.”

  30. 30
    vjtorley says:

    Upright BiPed (#26)

    Thank you for your question. The only discussion that I’ve been able to find on Uncommon Descent of Aquinas’ First Way – the Argument from Motion, which goes back to Aristotle – is this one, in which StephenB was defending the soundness of the argument:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....nd-reason/

    Personally, I’m somewhat leery of using this argument in an apologetic context, because it requires so much unpackaging to make it intelligible to moderns, and also because it requires a certain level of familiarity with multiple disciplines (from quantum physics to neurophysiology) to refute all possible lines of attack by skeptics.

    That said, I think it is a good argument. Here are some links which will help you. I’ve listed them roughly in order of digestibility, with the easiest at the top:

    Jerry Coyne and Aquinas’ First Way by Dr. Michael Egnor.

    The First Way by Dr. Christopher Martin.

    Aquinas’ First Way by Brandon (a lecturer in philosophy) at http://branemrys.blogspot.com/ and
    Further Thought on Aquinas’s First Way by the same author.

    Audio of talk on Aquinas’s First Wayby Professor David Oderberg, given at the Joseph Butler Society, Oriel College, Oxford, May 2009. The talk is 1 hour, followed by 1 hour of Q&A.

    I hope that helps.

  31. 31
    vjtorley says:

    olin (#28)

    You are quite right in saying that the cosmological argument doesn’t get us very far by itself. However, it does yield some important negative results, as Dr. Robert Koons argues in his article, A New Look at the Cosmological Argument : whatever the Uncaused Cause is, it is not contingent, which means it is not a mere aggregate, it does not have any quantitatively measurable attributes, it is not essentially located in space or time, and it is not a physical object.

    In section 7 of his article, Dr. Koons does however suggest a way in which the cosmological argument can lend support to the teleological argument. He carefully distinguishes the Thomistic teleological argument from Paley’s version (which he regards as flawed), and proposes an updated version of the Thomistic argument:

    Suppose, however, that we think about the teleological argument in close connection with the cosmological argument, as Aquinas did. In this case, we already know that the cosmos has a First Cause, and that this cause is necessary and involves a necessary being, whom we call “God”.

    The fact that a set of facts has been ordered to some purpose is empirically verifiable and does not logically entail (although it may suggest) the existence of any personal intentionality. A teleological law is simply a projectible, empirical generalization, which can be used to explain a set of facts by reference to their common effects (not their causes)….

    For the sake of this argument, let us presume that we have discovered such teleological generalizations at the level of the cosmos, such as: all physical constants and Big Bang conditions are such as to make possible complex life forms. The cosmos, so characterized, is the effect of the First Cause. We attribute intelligence to human beings because of the teleological generalizations that characterize the actions of normal human beings. Since the effects of the First Cause are strongly analogous to the effects of human action in exactly this respect, we have the strongest possible reason for attributing to God something analogous to intelligence….

    In the Thomistic argument, we start with four causally related terms: humans as cause of human actions, and the First Cause as cause of the cosmos. We notice that the cosmos shares the very feature of human actions upon which we base our attribution of intelligence to humans. We conclude that the First Cause is in some sense intelligent. Dissimilarities between the cosmos and human actions are irrelevant to this inference.

    Well, that’s a start, anyway. And don’t forget, there are other arguments for the existence of God.

  32. 32
    Mung says:

    Well, that’s a start, anyway. And don’t forget, there are other arguments for the existence of God.

    Yes. Thomas did not conclude with, therefore the Christian God exists. his conlcusion was, and this being we call God. (See post #4.)

    You have to put all the pieces together to come up with Christian theism, not just one of them.

  33. 33
    avocationist says:

    Olin,

    “If the only conclusion is that the universe must have a cause, and there is nothing to indicate that God is that cause, then it’s a fairly limited argument. That is, the cause could be natural or supernatural, and hence, it isn’t much of an argument for or against a supernatural being.”

    It depends on what YOU mean by God. But this causeless entity is very Other. Furthermore, that which is the cause and source of existence is, by definition, God.

    I don’t really relate to calling God supernatural or natural. I guess I am a panentheist, I believe that there is nothing BUT God, because there cannot be anything else, ever. Yet I also think that the universe could become non manifest without affecting God’s existence and that God transcends nature/matter.

  34. 34
    Upright BiPed says:

    vjt,

    Thank you. That was an interesting thread, but alas, was not the one I was thinking of. I don’t recall it being a philosophical argugument, but just a comment you made from logic that was rather profound, and I wanted simply to revisit it.

    I appreciate your help though.

    -best regards

  35. 35
    vjtorley says:

    olin (#28)

    In an earlier post, I suggested that Dr. Koons’ teleological argument could take us one step beyond the Uncaused Cause of the modal cosmological argument to an intelligent being.

    But in case you’re worried about God’s goodness, here’s a much-neglected (and frequently misunderstood) argument that does purport to show that God is intrinsically good, and that He is the source of all goodness: Aquinas’ Fourth Way.

    Aquinas’ Fourth Way by “oohlah” (Joe Ulatowski) on Praeter Necessitatum.

    Aquinas on Perfectionby “oohlah” (Joe Ulatowski) on Praeter Necessitatum.

    Defending the Fourth Way by “Saint Sebastian” (Daniel Jones) on Praeter Necessitatum.

    I hope that helps.

  36. 36
    Mung says:

    Note that each of Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God started from observations of the natural world.

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