Posted: Aug 16, 2013 6:23 am
by Mick
Thoughts on Evidence

My opponent anticipated the sort of response I would have if someone were to demand that a deity's existence or all evidence thereof should be measurable, quantifiable, and things of that sort. I would reject that demand categorically.

Such a demand is partially predicated on the Cartesian and Baconian redefinition of knowledge: knowledge defined in terms of utility. This redefinition led to an exclusive focus on the how questions, that is, on the material and efficient causes, as well as a great focus on the quantifiable and measurable aspects of the world. Everything else was omitted or ignored, and formal and final causes were of no exception.

But the dismissal of formal and final causes was partially based upon hope and theological motivations rather than sincere, academic rebuttal or refutation. Because of this, there is unfinished business between Aristotelians and the moderns. And so if I were now faced with the aforementioned demand, one embolden by that scientism or understanding of knowledge, then I would charge my demander with presuming contentious ideas.

Furthermore, even if I wanted, it is unclear how I could offer testable or falsifiable claims for God's existence. I say this for two reasons.

Firstly, if God is a necessary existent, then His existence is not falsifiable, in principle. Secondly, if my cosmological argument is sound, then God is the precondition of all change, regularity, becoming, and changeable things. Thus, the fact that there are things of that sort (change, regularity, etc.) necessitates His existence. Consequently, God's existence is not a hypothesis in need of scientific confirmation or testability. Instead, God's existence is a precondition of scientific evidence.

On the Cosmological Argument

My opponent says this:

The argument from first cause, for example, does not engage in special pleading as many detractors mistakenly think, for it is not rooted in a modus ponens or a categorical syllogism. “Either there is an infinite regress of causes (splayed out or looped) or there must be some uncaused cause at the heart of it;this regress cannot be; therefore, there is an uncaused cause.” (Disjunctive Syllogism)

My opponent argues that the cosmological argument does not commit the fallacy of special pleading, because it is not “rooted in” modus ponens or the categorical syllogism. But it is unclear to me why an argument form such as modus ponens or a categorical syllogism is relevant. I say this because that fallacy is an informal one; and hence its occurrence depends upon the content of what is said rather than its logical form or presentation.

What is more, any instance of modus ponens can be translated into a disjunctive syllogism. Consider: '(p →q), p; and hence q' is logically equivalent to (~p V q), p; and hence q'. Thus, if either one, in virtue of its form, commits the fallacy of special pleading, then so does the other.

My opponent furthers:

If we accept this argument, we can conclude that the world of cause and caused we observe is simply “made of something that causes”. The same holds true for arguments from first mover, first existent, and so on. Not only is there no need to add a deity to this conclusion, but strapping on some unobserved being makes a mockery of any premise we use in which we depend on “intuitively obvious” assumptions from observation. A wholesome exercise of cosmological arguments does not permit us to shove yet more ontological distinction into our original disjunction.

My cosmological argument concludes that there is a first, uncaused cause, but nothing there explicitly deduces a deity. That is why I have a subsection entitled Fleshing It Out. In that subsection I explicate why the first, unchangeable changer is a deity.

Therefore, this objection is inapplicable to my argument.

On the Ontological Argument

My opponent says:

To my knowledge, no philosopher has pointed out the rather embarrassing admission tacit in this argument, and in all ontological arguments by claimants. What is it that makes the conceived “greater”? Existence in reality. What is this “reality”, but the world subject to empirical epistemologies? By using ontological arguments, the claimant inadvertently lets slip the nature of the world to which their deity hopes admission- but we already have this very world and all its glories at hand! From ontological arguments we can only conclude that a deity exists in a manner countless other ideas exist.

Despite reading this paragraph, I am left unsure what "embarrassing admission” is found within that ontological argument. Anselm argues that that than which no greater can be conceived, if it is conceived, can only be that thing if it exists in conception and in reality. That argument is given on the background of a platonic metaphysic and epistemology, one in sharp contrast to "empirical epistemologies". But if my opponent presumes those "empiricist epistemologies", then he is begging the question against Anselm.

That issue aside, despite what my opponent claims, it is false that all ontological arguments make use of the superlative 'greater'. Consider this argument.

1. Necessarily, if God exists, then God is pure act.
2. Necessarily, if God exists contingently, then God is not pure act.
3. Possibly, God exists.
4. Therefore, God exists.

This argument is valid in S5 modal logic, and yet it does not take stock in superlatives; and hence my opponent’s global objection against the ontological argument fails. (1)

On Religious Language

My opponent says:

One point that needs to be made clear: in discussing the proposition “a deity exists”, we are necessarily discussing either a small god or an openly human construct. Paradoxically, a God worthy of the name and of the hyperbole assigned to it by many theologies would be unnameable, inexpressible, ineffable. It would not be possible to even say that this God exists, for we could neither name nor reduce to symbols such a thing, nor would it be possible to make the claim “exists” because this is conceivably negated: “does not exist”. This Ineffable could not even conceivably or hypothetically not be. There would be no way to disbelieve such a thing, nor could such a thing be grasped by such puny and ephemeral actions such as “belief”. Complete silence on the matter altogether would be the best, the only possible, discussion.

There is a historical concern about language and God, because God is supposed to be simple and transcendent. My opponent thinks this concern leads us to a "functional atheism", since we cannot properly say anything about God. My opponent is wrong.

Firstly, the objection is self-inconsistent, since the objection is proffered in a way that presupposes the legitimacy of God-talk. Indeed, my opponent freely talks about how we can or cannot talk about the Ineffable. For instance, he says that"[t]his Ineffable could not conceivably or hypothetically not be”, but that sentence takes the Ineffable (or the concept thereof) as a proper subject. The fact that my opponent offers that "tautology" ("an ineffable is ineffable") is sufficient for my point, since he therein predicates ineffability to something ineffable. But if that sort of predication is the very thing we cannot do, then how does my opponent get away with it?

Similar concerns apply to this so-called functional atheism. If we can neither hold propositional attitudes concerning “an ineffable” nor predicate anything to it (nor its concept), then what exactly is functional atheism? An explanation of what functional atheism is seems futile, since such an explanation would only make sense on the background of expressible theological claims.

Secondly, theists can turn to analogical predication. On analogical predication, existence is understood as an analogical notion: we understand that things can exist in different ways or senses. For instance, properties and substances have being, but not in the same way. Potencies and actualities are said to have being, but not in the same way. Yet, despite their differences, there is a similarity, an analogous way that they all are.

We can reason similarly with God and His creatures. That which we predicate to God and His creatures is neither equivocal nor univocal; it is analogical. We are good, and God is good, but 'is good' does not hold univocally between us and God. Instead, the relation is analogical. There is a similarity in the way that God is good and we are good, but that relation is not identical.

By using analogical senses, we can respect the transcendence of God while still being about to talk about God, since the predicates do not hold univocally. We can use this sort of predication to help us speak about God, or to at least point to certain truths about God, just as we often use metaphorical language to convey difficult or ineffable ideas and experiences. (2)


My opponent’s objections to the cosmological argument are inapplicable in my case. His global objection to the ontological argument fails, and his objection to religious language is self-defeating.

Thus, my opponent’s opening post offers no good reason to be a skeptic about the existence of a deity.


(1) The premises for this argument are schematized thusly: (1) □(G→A); (2) □{(◊G &◊~G)→~A}; and (3) ◊G. Those familiar with modal propositional logic and S5 should be able to see why this argument is valid. ‘G’ stands for ‘God exists’ and ‘A’ stands for ‘God is pure act’. Within the antecedent of (2) I express ‘God exists contingently’ with the help of the modal operators rather than with an additional constant.

(2) See Edward Feser's piece for more information on analogical predication. ... heism.html