Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Major Proofs for God's Existence, Radically Condensed and Critiqued

The Major Proofs for God's Existence -- Radically Condensed and Critiqued.         W.J. Holly, Ph.D.

In the following, major proofs for God's existence are condensed and critiqued.  They include Anselm's ontological argument, Aquinas' five ways, and the argument from design.

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                In the following, "God" means One Omniscient (all-knowing), Omnipotent (all-powerful), and Benevolent (perfectly good) Creator of the universe. // The Ontological Argument: Anselm believes that the very definition of "God" enables us to see that God must exist -- anyone who understands the word "God" thereby knows that God exists.  In short form, the argument says that by definition, God is a GCB (a Greatest Conceivable Being).  When the fool hears the word "God" he understands it, and what is understood is in the mind.   But a thing that exists in reality is greater than a thing that exists only in the mind.  So, since God is the GCB, he must exist in reality, not just in the understanding.  QED: God by definition exists. // Criticisms:  First, to say that God exists in our understanding only means that we understand the word "God" -- This does not mean that God exists in our minds. (What could that mean?)  Second, to say that God by definition is a GCB does not mean that we have discovered that a certain God whose existence is known to us also has the attribute of being a GCB.  It only means that IF there is a God, then God is a GCB.  It is like saying that IF there is a triangle, then it has three sides.  The fact that a thing would not be a triangle if it did not have three sides does not show there are any triangles.  The fact that a thing would not be God if it were not a GCB does not show any GCBs exist.  Third, it is nonsense to say that a thing is greater if it exists in reality than if it is only imaginary.  It is just a bad joke to say that Dr. Holly is stronger than Superman because the latter is imaginary.  Fourth, it isn't clear that "GCX" makes sense.  There is no Greatest Conceivable number.  Is there a Greatest Conceivable Painting, automobile, Spouse, dog, knife, etc.?  What would that even mean?  So, it is not clear what a Greatest Conceivable Being would be.  Fifth, just as there might be more than one person who got the greatest conceivable score on a certain test, perhaps there could be more than one GCB.  Perhaps Anselm has an answer to this in his Chapter 5, where he claims that a GCB would be the one who created everything from nothing.  He does seem right that only one could have created everything, and this would be greater than being part of a creation committee.  Sixth, Gaunilo pointed out that if the Ontological argument could prove there is a God, then it could just as easily prove that there is a GCI -- a Greatest Conceivable Island.  (If a GCI did not exist, then it wouldn't be the greatest conceivable island, because it would be greater if it existed -- so the GCI by definition exists!) But, this is silly, so there is something wrong with this type of argument.  Seventh, if the Ontological argument works for God, it should work just as well to show that there exists a Super Satan -- a WCB (a Worst Conceivable Being -- a being perfect in knowledge, power, and malevolence).  SS would be worse if he existed than if he were only in our minds, so by definition, SS (the WCB) exists.  This unwarranted conclusion is theologically unacceptable, and it rests on mere verbal trickery. So, the Ontological Argument does not work.  At least six of the above criticisms are conclusive by themselves. 

                 Descartes had a variation on the Ontological argument:  He claimed that a GCB would have to be an NEB (Necessarily Existing Being), because an NEB is greater than a being that is not necessarily existent.  So, he thought it would be self-contradictory to say God does not exist, because that would be to say that a necessarily existing being did not exist. // Criticism:  The same objections given to Anselm's version apply to Descartes' version.  All we are entitled to say is that IF there is an NEB, then it necessarily exists.  But, if this argument could show there is a God, it would just as well show there is a necessarily existing Island, a necessarily existing apple, and a necessarily existing Super Satan.  Additionally, it isn't clear that it always would be better to be a necessarily existent thing (we would not be able to eat a necessarily existent apple).  Finally, David Hume objected that the label "Necessarily Existent" makes no more sense than "round square," because anything we can conceive of as existing, we just as easily can conceive of as not existing.  So, if God has the property of being necessarily existent, it must be a property we cannot conceive.  Moreover, if there is a property of "necessary existence," perhaps it applies to the physical stuff of the universe, not to God.   But, suppose that it applies only to God.  We still have no explanation how a GCB could create a physical universe from nothing.  So, the NEB version of the Ontological argument does not establish that there is a God, nor does it explain how the concept of God could be of any use in a scientific explanation of anything. 

                Saint Thomas Aquinas has Five Ways to prove God:  The First Way is this:  Some things change from potentially being X to actually being X.  But, (for example) a thing that is only potentially hot cannot cause itself to become hot because it has no heat to give itself.  Therefore, a thing getting hotter is being made hotter by another object that actually has heat -- so things must be caused to change by other objects, not by themselves.  This chain of prior causes must have a beginning -- it must start with a cause that is itself uncaused.  That uncaused first cause is God. // Criticisms:  First, Aquinas' physics is primitive and mistaken.  For example, wood in the process of combustion gets hotter from chemical reactions that release energy, not by getting heat that is transferred from things already hot.  Second, even if he had proved that there must be a first cause, he has not shown that the first cause was God -- that it had any of the psychological or moral attributes of God. Third, he has not shown that there is only one first cause of things (there might be infinite numbers of first causes).  Fourth, he has not shown that the first cause still exists (perhaps it entirely depleted itself in causing all subsequent changes).  Fifth, he has not shown that there is any problem in thinking that the sequence of causes could go back infinitely into the past without there being any first cause. In fact, we have no proof (or reason to believe) that there was or could be a first moment in time, and no proof that there is a time prior to which God did anything.  In fact, the deterministic claim that all events are caused by prior events logically entails that there cannot be a first event.  Perhaps the universe, physical stuff, and the chain of causes and effects, is eternal -- perhaps it has existed forever.  Sixth, he has not explained how God could be a cause of heat or motion.  Is God hot or in motion, and if so, how does God transfer his heat or motion to physical objects?  Does God hit, bump into, or throw objects to give them motion, and does that violate Newton's laws of motion -- does it give rise to action without equal and opposite reaction?  Does God change (lose some of his heat) when he makes other things hotter?  Aquinas doesn't say.  Seventh, Aquinas has not ruled out the possibility that the first big change (perhaps the big bang) happened without any cause at all.  If the first event was uncaused, then there would be no explanation for the first event, and none would be needed.  Eighth, even if God was the first cause of change, this "God hypothesis" is entirely non-explanatory.  To say that a fantastically wonderful being (omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect) who is entirely unknown to us (and that is itself completely uncaused and thus without any possible explanation) caused the first change by an unknown process is not to give any explanation at all.  It simply introduces three new super-mysteries without explaining the original mystery, what caused the first ordinary changes, like that from hot to cold.  Introducing God (an unknown and uncaused being with fantastic powers that themselves are unexplained) constitutes a loss of explanatory ground, not evidence that there is a God.    

                Aquinas' Second Way calls attention to the fact that a thing cannot cause itself (bring itself into existence) because it would be logically impossible for a thing to precede its own existence.  He concludes that the cause of a thing's existence must be another thing, and that this series of things causing other things must terminate in a first cause (for, without a first cause, there can be no subsequent and thus no ultimate causes). The first cause is God. // Criticisms:  First, Anselm gives no proof or even reason to believe that there is only one first cause of things, that this first cause continues to exist, or that it has any mental or moral attributes we associate with God.   Second, he offers no explanation whatsoever how God or any other thing could cause physical stuff to come into existence, so the supposition of a God that is causally responsible for the existence of the physical universe is non-explanatory.  In fact, it loses us explanatory ground by claiming to explain the existence of ordinary matter by postulating the existence of some fantastic unknown being that exercises entirely mysterious powers (perhaps word magic) to create ordinary stuff.  Third, Anselm's supposition that matter needs something to cause it to exist runs counter to our modern belief in the conservation of matter.  We know of no way to bring matter into existence (create it out of nothing) or to annihilate it.  We cannot do it, and have no idea how any unknown Super being could create matter out of nothing.  Fourth, there are two ways matter might exist without having been caused -- (1) it might be eternal (have existed forever) or (2) it might have popped into existence without any cause at all.  The second choice here (coming into existence without any cause) is less mysterious than the claim that it was made from nothing by a fantastic unknown being through the exercise of inexplicable powers.  The God-hypothesis introduces new mysteries without explaining the first alleged mystery.  That is not explanatory gain.

                Aquinas' Third Way claims a distinction between things that need not be (contingent beings) and things that must be (necessary beings).   The former include things like plants and animals that spring up and die away.  He claims that nothing would now exist if nothing but contingent beings existed. This seems unwarranted. Why couldn't trees give rise to other trees before they wither and die, giving us an endless series of trees?  (Indeed, there is no reason why a non-necessary being couldn't just exist forever, without being a necessary being).  Nevertheless, Anselm claims that contingent beings could not exist without necessary beings to bring them into existence.  The necessary being, of course, is God. // Criticisms:  Again, Anselm does not show that there is only one NEB (there could be infinitely many), that it has the moral or mental attributes of a God, that it still exists, or that it even makes sense to speak of a necessarily existing being…  Ecclesiastes says of dust we are and to dust shall we return.  Perhaps dust (physical matter) is the enduring and indestructible stuff of which we and other living things are made, and into which again we decompose.  In any event, Aquinas does not explain how God could sustain himself, or how he could bring contingent beings into existence from nothing.  So, this is just another non-explanation.

                Aquinas' Fourth Way says that we understand comparative terms like "greater," "taller," and "more true," only by understanding how they describe varying degrees of approximation to a superlative.  For example, we only understand the claim that A is hotter than B by understanding that A more closely approaches that which is hottest.  And, God is the superlative thing in truth, wisdom, goodness, etc.  Without God's being the standard superlative object of comparison, we would not even understand such claims as that Grandma is wiser than her children.  Since we do understand comparative terms, it follows that God (the superlative object of comparison) exists. // Criticism:  I am not certain that this is a correct representation of Anselm's or Aristotle's pre-scientific thinking.  I do not know what they meant in saying that the hottest of all things causes all other (hot?) things to be hot.  But, the point about comparatives is manifestly false.  I know how to tell whether one potato is hotter than another without knowing what it would be for a thing to be the hottest possible thing.  I can know one is hotter than anther without comparing them to a third (hottest) thing, and the so-called hottest thing need not exist for me to know one thing is hotter than the other.  The same is true of being taller, wiser, redder, etc.  Aquinas' last (fifth way) is that stones act with purpose (always go down rather than up when released) even though they do not know up from down.  So, God must show them the way. OK.

                Paley's Watch Argument -- AFD (the Argument From Design):  Paley's watch argument points out that the parts and internal organization of a watch are so complex and wonderful that it would take an intelligent designer and manufacturer to make a watch.  But, living organisms (plants and animals) are far more wonderfully complex than any human artifact.  So, organisms require a far more intelligent designer than a watch does.  That Great Designer would be God. (Only God can make a tree, and there are trees, so there is a God).  // Criticisms (mostly from David Hume, 100 years before Darwin): First, the One/Many objection is that we cannot tell from looking at an artifact how many designers and makers it had.  The more complex the artifact, the more likely it is that it had several ordinary designers, not one amazing designer.  If your entire crop was eaten overnight, you suppose that it was a swarm of ordinary grasshoppers, not a Super Grasshopper. "Many" is more plausible than "one".  Second, the Trial & Error objection:  We cannot tell from examining an artifact that the designer got it right the first time.  The more complex and wonderful the artifact (say, a Yankee Clipper), the more likely that it took years (perhaps many generations) of trial and error and experience to get the thing as good as it is.  Trial and error is a more plausible hypothesis than a Super Intelligent being that got it right the first time.  Third, the Regress Objection: If everything complex and wonderful requires a designer, then who made God?  If God is more wonderful than the organisms he is invoked to explain, then he stands in need of an even greater designer -- a Super God to design him.   But, this leads to a vicious and endless regress of designers. Who then designed and made the Super God that designed our God -- a Super-Super God?  At each step of the regress, we lose explanatory ground -- which means that at each step we invoke something even harder to explain.  Explanations are supposed to reduce mystery, to explain complex and wonderful things in terms of more ordinary things.  AFD, however, increases mystery rather than reducing it, by purporting to explain ordinary things by postulating extraordinary and unknown things.  Indeed, the details on how God is able to design and manufacture plants and animals are left incredibly vague.  If God never had a body or parents, how could he have come up with the idea of love and all the other wonderful complexities of human life? Fourth, Does God Have a Brain?   In all experience, mind depends on matter, not matter on mind -- we know of no instances where a being that lacks a brain has intelligence.  Brain damage negatively affects thought.  Cut off Fred's legs and he cannot dance; cut out his eyes, and he cannot see; cut out his brain and he cannot think.  Any school child knows this.  So, it would be absurd to say that God could be super-intelligent without having a brain.  But, if God has a brain, then how large must it be, and who then designed God's brain?  Fifth, the Argument from Evil: If there were a God with the knowledge, power, and goodness to prevent evil, there would be no evil (no disease, natural disasters, genocide, etc.). But there is evil, so there is no God.  Hume did not think this argument proves that there is no Perfect God. But, the explanations why God allows evil to exist seem pathetically lame.  For example, to say that God allows disease, war, and mass starvation to reduce population seems nothing short of blasphemy.  There are more humane ways to keep the population down.  Hume did not see how to entirely rule out that God could have excellent reason to allow all the evils in this world, even though none of the familiar "excuses" for allowing it seem plausible.  Hume's interest in AFE was not to prove that God does not exist, but to block the argument from design in this way:  If we have no satisfactory answer to the problem of evil (if we cannot prove that this world is perfect), then we cannot argue from the perfection of the world to the perfection of its creator.  This is not meant to blame God for bad things that happen.  It would seem ungrateful to blame God for imperfections in this world, when one instead should be thanking God for all the good things he has given us.  But, this misses the point of the AFE.  The point is that the existence of evil seems to be evidence against an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Caring God.  How can we explain God's allowing innocent children to have birth defects and to die of horrible incurable and unavoidable diseases when it would be easy for him to cure all that?  Unsatisfactory answers are prima facie evidence that no such being exists.  To say that God allows evil to test us is not plausible.  Given God's omniscience, he knew before we were born what our test scores would be.  So, why not just skip the test, the suffering, and the evil deeds, and just start with Judgment Day, where He says, "We know how you would have done on the test.  Martha would have gotten really high marks, and Fred would have failed very badly."  (The notion of free will, if it means not being a deterministic being, does not help here.  A randomizer in your circuits, while making you unpredictable, would make you less -- not more -- responsible.) // Sixth objection; The Argument From Goodness attempts to explain why our world could not have been made by a Super Satan (a being perfect in knowledge, power, and malevolence).  It appeals to the fact that there is much goodness in the world, and submits that an SS would not allow such goodness in the most evil of all possible worlds.  However, it is all too easy to explain why a SS might temporarily allow good things like love and beauty and health temporarily, so that he might cause even greater suffering when we see those we love suffer, betray us, and so on.  Of course there is not any Super Satan any more than there exists a Super Man of the comic books.  The criticism of AFD here is only that the goodness in the world does not prove it is not the worst (most evil) of all possible worlds.  If you cannot prove that it is not the worst of all possible worlds, you certainly cannot prove that it is so perfect that it must have been made by God. QED.//  Other Objections:  The theory of evolution explains the complex and wonderful structures of plants and animals without bringing in fantastic non-explanatory unknown entities with inexplicable powers that we have never witnessed in operation.  Evolution explains why we (and evil things like disease and parasites) exist by appealing to ordinary observable processes in normal life.  Finally, even if AFD showed that organisms had a Designer, it offers no evidence to think that such a Designer still exists.  Perhaps he got old or discouraged and died.  Besides, even if a God did in fact create all organisms from scratch in six ordinary days of creation, we know that none of us have ever seen any cows, chickens, trees or people that were designed and made by God.  All the plants, animals, and people we have ever seen resulted from normal reproductive processes like being born, hatched from eggs, grown from seeds, etc.  In fact that explains why we know watches must have had intelligent designers and manufacturers:  Watches cannot evolve the way organisms can, because watches have gears and springs but they have no offspring.  Watches have no parents or children, and that is why they cannot evolve as organisms do.   

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