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Does God Exist?

Contents

I have been prompted to write this essay by conversations with a number of friends. In particular, I would refer my readers to the excellent presentation of "The Anthropic Principle" by Prof Paul Miller; excerpts of which are included in this text. More recently, my interest in the "Ontological Argument" and its relationship with the "Argument from Contingency" has been kindled by an existentialist agnostic MySpace corespondent, Andrew, whose work I quote below.

This question has been central to the life and concerns of humanity since the earliest days. Perhaps it was at first taken for granted that God or "the gods" existed. How else could primitive men and women explain the wonders and horrors of life and the world in which it was played out? Over time the question has become more contentious as many have come to believe that belief itself is at least misguided and delusional and at most pathological. Before considering the arguments in favour of "the existence of God" (not all of which I approve of or agree with!) I shall review some of the arguments against belief in God, and before that I shall address the prime issue "What is God?"

What is God?

Note first that I ask what and not who is God. This discussion is not going to be getting to the God of any (ostensibly) "revealed religion". I am here dealing with the God of "natural theology" or metaphysics. Although, as a Catholic I believe in a personal God, I shall endeavour not to involve any such notion in what follows. The concept of God I will be dealing with is that of some source of being or reality or value that is "out there" and distinct from "the Cosmos". A source of reality that is itself not dependent upon or derivative for its being on any thing that we could experience. Of course, the "gods" of some religions don't qualify as candidates for such a God. Indeed, the kind of "God" that some Christians informally profess belief in doesn't either!

Some believers are happy to attribute to God dependencies upon the Cosmos that make the "divinity" nothing more than the most elevated of all things: not absolutely distinct from everything else, but only the greatest thing of all. This is normally done on the basis of portraying God as compassionate, loving and caring: all of which I believe God to be, in a fundamentally important but not simple sense. The ultimate version of this doctrine is "patripassionism", the notion that God the Father suffered in the crucifixion of Jesus; something that was unequivocally condemned by the Early Fathers of the Church. Such a "divinity" is simply not divine. At best it is the "demi-urge" of Gnosticism, an instrument that God might use to do the dirty work of creation. There are echoes here of Arianism, the doctrine that the Christ was not God, but only "divine" in the sense of (very) god-like. There are understandable motives for such a view of God, as I shall describe in my brief treatment of the "Problem of Pain", but these do not excuse the simple metaphysical mistake. If God is not absolutely independent of the Cosmos, utterly other and sovereign then God isn't God and we are talking incoherent nonsense.

What is existence?

In passing, one should also remark on the word existence. In its Latin origins, this word means "to stand out proud from", as an embossed pattern stands out from the smoothness of the bronze shield which it decorates. As a physicist interested in "scattering theory", this has a particular resonance, for me - that's a physicist joke, by the way! In the formalism that I am familiar with, something is something when it differs (locally) from the general environment. Things are simply deviations from the norm. That norm may itself may be composed of other smaller things: in a hierarchy of being, on many scales of time and space. In this strict sense of existence, the question "Does God exist?" has a trivial answer: "No!" God isn't a thing like this at all. God is not a part of a greater whole. He cannot be associated or categorized with anything. God is utterly other. God doesn't inhabit some environment of things (even Heaven) which can form a backdrop from which God can "stand out". God doesn't have a context. God is not an actor on a stage. God is no thing at all.

A better question to ask is simply "Is God?" but this sounds affected in English. For a discussion of this topic, I recommend the play "Jumpers" by Tom Stoppard, in which the hero agonizes over this question at some amusing length.

Some misexplanations of Theism

An emotional crutch

I think that it is manifest that some people choose to profess belief in some kind of divinity in an attempt to make sense of their lives. Perhaps they feel unloved, or that life can have no meaning without some great figurehead "up there". Perhaps they feel overwhelmed by their troubles or just by the size of the Universe. Whatever the reason, a perceived emotional need for something to be so does not, I am sad to say obviate it to be so. When I was deeply and pathologically in love, my need for that love to be requited had no causal effect. I could whisper the magic words "I love you" as a mantra as often as I cared to, but they did not achieve the object that I intensely wished they would. They helped me to get through the agonies I subjectively endured, but they did not affect objective reality.

Of course, the fact that some people entertain the notion that "God is" from personal inadequacy does not mean that "God is not". The fact that many people find such an inadequacy within themselves is rather some sort of an argument for God's being - but not a very good one, I think.

A support for sanity

This is a more sophisticated and significant version of my first bad reason for theism. The idea is that as humanity evolved physiological self-consciousness, and individuals grew aware of their mortality, the thought that their lives were futile would have inevitably driven them mad unless a parallel evolution of ideas developed. This was the comforting (but erroneous) hypothesis that there was an ultimate purpose in life: beyond, above and apart from their doomed mortality. This transcendent significance was labelled "God". So God, on this account of the matter, is a convenient expedient "developed for us by nature" to stop us going mad! God is an indispensable component of the mental framework of any self-conscious rational being: a conceptual antidepressant, if you like.

I find this highly plausible, except for the fact that there are many people who profess to be agnostic or atheist, have no notion that their lives have any lasting or objective significance and yet seem to maintain their sanity well enough. I'm not sure that I could do this, if I became unconvinced of God's being: after more than forty years of theism!  However the fact that they can and do so invalidates this argument, it seems to me. In any case, I would argue that belief in God doesn't really answer this purpose. The futility of final extinction is no more mitigated by the fact that "God is" than by the fact that friends and family may survive one's death - for a while. The horror of the termination of my particularity of personhood can only be mitigated by a belief in some kind of continuity of life, experience and activity after death!

Of course, this has most definitely not been a core feature of all religions. While the Egyptians had a sophisticated doctrine of the immortality of the soul, the Hebrews got by very well for over a millennium with no belief in any kind of worth-while after-life. Even in Jesus' day, the elite Sadducees rejected the novel doctrine of the populist Pharisee party in this regard [Mat 22:23]. For the Sadducees it was good enough to be faithful to God, that was its own reward [Psalms 1 & 118]. It was enough to do what was right, because it was right, and to expect no reward or recompense except - hopefully - some tranquility and prosperity in this short life [Job 1:8-11, 42:10].

An externalization of parenthood

This is the first of two related psychological theories of theism. It is the hypothesis that the unsafe dependency of the infant upon its too fallible parents is transformed into a safe dependency upon a fictional infallible parent figure, which is called God. This gives security just as it dawns upon the child that its parents cannot be absolutely relied upon for truth: or even sustenance and shelter. This is yet another version of the first two explanations for theism. It has the advantage of not claiming that it is necessary to externalize parenthood to maintain sanity, but only that it is a common strategy employed to do so. Hence it cannot be falsified, and is not strictly speaking scientific - which doesn't make it silly or wrong!

Moreover, I suppose that there is a core element of truth in it. If God was not, then perhaps we would invent God. However, this analysis tells us nothing whatever about whether God is or is not: only about what our response might be if God was not! In any case St. Paul admits the relationship between parenthood and God when he says "....I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" [Eph 3:14,15].

Finally, I want to say that problems an individual has with their own parents tend to have a detrimental affect on their attitude towards God, especially when God is presented to them as a Father (or Mother!) that they cannot choose and did not choose them as persons, rather than as a Friend, who they can choose and has chosen them knowing exactly who and what they are.

A projection of the Super-Ego

This is a more abstract variation on the previous hypothesis. Rather than identifying the origin of the notion of God as "The  Parent", God is said to buttress or justify "conscience". Whatever the origin or purpose or function of our moral sense, of our self-judgement, values and internal ideals; we attempt to bolster them by externalizing and promoting them to the status of decrees of an objective, all-knowing, all-wise and infallible judge. We can then use this fabrication either as an emotional crutch, or as a stick to beat our own backs with - as the mood takes us or psychological need arises.

I am quite sure that this process takes place. I think it is manifest in some of the most extreme forms of fundamentalist religion such as Islam,  Calvinist Christianity or Conservative Catholicism.

The opium of the masses

The political theorist gives yet another explanation for theism. Namely that it is a scheme hatched by secular authorities to enslave the rabble that they rule. On the one hand, God conveniently serves as a source of ultimate authority which is useful in order to keep the populace in awe of their rulers, and so subjugated. On the other hand, God can offer the prospect of "Cloud Cookoo Land" and "pie in the sky when you die" ["Animal Farm", George Orwell], and so calm discontent among the downtrodden and disadvantaged. "Religion is the opium of the masses" [Marx].

It is certain that the idea of God has often been used in this way. Indeed, even leaders of the Catholic Church have done so - and continue to do so! However, the fact that something can be misused and exploited for ill does not mean that it is wrong or mistaken or evil.

A conceptual virus

This is a sophisticated and telling hypothesis. In brief, the notion is that an evolution of ideas parallels the evolution of biological species, and that those ideas, theories and beliefs survive and prosper which are themselves most "fit" to do so. They can prosper in at least two very different ways:
  1. Symbiotically: by helping their mental owners to survive and prosper, but not especially procreate - ideas are passed on by conversation not by copulation;
  2. Parasitically: by diverting much of their proponents' energy into propagating them, perhaps even contrary to their own self-interest - perhaps by wasting many hours generating pages of web-site material!
This second kind of relationship is parasitic of the individual in much the same way as is a physiological child, engendered by sexual intercourse.

Theologies majoring in "guilt" and "threats of damnation", certainly have the required characteristics; but this theory hardly explains the undoubted success of more gentle religions like Shikism, Buddhism - where there is no real basis for a concern for the "salvation" of anyone else other than oneself, and no tradition of missionary zeal - or Judaism - where no strategy to spread beyond the ethnic boundary of the Jewish people has ever taken off, other than in the more aggressive "Jewish heresies" of Christianity and Islam.

I suspect that it is a dim awareness of the second possibility (of mental parasitism) that makes many people wary of "The God Squad". Some forms of religion certainly match up well with the model of a contagious "social disease". The evangelical preoccupation with proselytism conforms closely to this paradigm.

Of course, Christianity claims to be "good news" - that is to have a message which gives the clue to the living of a fulfilling life. The simple pleasure and satisfaction of seeing others discover the same truth and delight that oneself has benefited from is a coherent motive for "passing it on". A shared joy is a joy multiplied. Another motive is the wish to transform the society in which one lives for the better - so that it is more pleasant and safe and supportive for oneself.

A problem that I agonize with is how much I do or don't wish various close non-Catholic friends to become Catholics. As a faithful Catholic, I believe that it is objectively right for them to do so. As a realistic person I fear that it may be subjectively harmful for them to do so. In the present state of the Church, they are liable to receive only emotional hurt and intellectual misdirection; and to suffer greatly for no clear purpose. I cannot wish that fate on anyone.

The problem of pain

It is with much trepidation that I attempt any account of this subject. I consider that it is the central problem of religion; or at least of Theodicy: the justification of God's ways to Man's judgement. Some would argue that it is not for (wo)men to judge God. I vehemently disagree and will argue against such a position below. I think that I am in good company here, namely Abraham [Gen 18:23-33] and Moses [Ex 32:9-14], the two men who are specifically called "friends of God".

The problem is familiar to any but the most callous and hard-hearted soul. It is this: "How can a God that is supposed to be both good and omnipotent tolerate evil, death, sickness, suffering, injustice and pain? Either God mustn't care about such matters: in which case God isn't good; or God is unable to do anything: in which case God isn't omnipotent."

It is possible to avoid this difficulty by taking one of the two gambits offered. Now, it may be possible to make some sort of a case for either a good but impotent God, or for an omnipotent but disinterested God: but I have no interest in doing so. This paper is not an attempt to score debating points, but rather to make an attempt on the truth. My intuition, fostered by the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, is that God is both good and omnipotent. I wish to explore how this can be, given our undoubted experience of sorrow and sickness and death.

Defence 1: Evil is a means to an ultimately good end

"One attempt by theologians to answer the question is to claim that evil is just a means to an ultimate end, which is always good. An example is given where a doctor amputates a patient's leg, an 'evil', in order to prevent gangrene from spreading throughout the patient's body, 'the ultimate end', which is 'good'. Yet this example is only justified on the basis that the doctor has limited powers. With the limitations of medical technology at his disposal, he of course chose the lesser evil; since there was no way of saving both the patient's leg and his life. However, this analogy cannot be applied to God and the problem of evil, since God, unlike the doctor, has unlimited powers. In fact, a more accurate analogy is a doctor who first actively infects the leg of his patient (God is the cause of all things), and then decide to amputate his leg when a less severe cure was available (God is all powerful). We would call such a doctor wicked and mad. Why do we call such a God good?" [A MySpace Friend (June 2008)]
This type of argument is pretty clearly specious, except that sometimes God's theoretically unlimited powers are practically limited by a requirement for God not to "force Himself on us".

Defence 2: Moral evil is an inevitable consequence of free will

"Another argument brought forward by theologians is that evil is a natural consequence of God allowing man free-will. This argument may be allowed to explain some moral evil caused by man such as theft, murder and rape. But how does giving man free-will relate to physical evils such as earthquakes, famines, plagues and floods? Thus, the free-will explanation cannot explain the existence of natural calamities that befall man. In fact, the free will explanation cannot even satisfactorily explain moral evil. If God is all powerful, he could have created all man with free will and with a predisposition towards doing good. But according to the same theologians, man is sinful by nature, with a predisposition for doing bad. God's action in giving man free-will and at the same time giving him a predisposition towards doing bad is no different morally from a man who drinks, on purpose, in front of a recently reformed alcoholic! If we describe such a man as irresponsible and immoral, why do we persist in calling such a God good?

The abstraction 'man' used above is also misleading. All of mankind have free-will; some, a small minority, chose evil and rob, kill, cheat and maim. Are the more numerous victims to be consoled by saying that this is a consequence of their (the victims) having free will? In other words, are the innocent victims somehow responsible for the crimes on themselves because they have free will? The right to be protected from crimes is basic for all citizens in the world; any government that fails to deliver a reasonable amount of protection from these would be condemned and duly removed from power. Yet somehow it is okay for the all powerful God to give men free will and allow them to suffer the consequences from the minority who misuse it. To say that all will be rectified in the afterlife where the good will be rewarded in heaven and the bad will be punished in hell does not resolve the issue. No appeal to an afterlife can actually eradicate the problem of evil. An injustice always remains an injustice, regardless of any subsequent effort to comfort the victim. If a father, after beating his child unmercifully, later gives him a lollipop as compensation, this does not eradicate the original act or its evil nature. Nor would we praise the father as just and loving. Yet, this is exactly what the Christians claims their God to do. He allows the faithful to suffer (remember Job!) and later rewards them. This God cannot, by any moral yardstick, be called good." [A MySpace Friend (June 2008)]

This is a mis-representation of the argument. I shall take this argument up myself later. For the moment I shall make a few comments on this biased presentation.

According to Catholic (as opposed to Protestant) theology, the "predisposition towards evil" that is called "concupiscence" and which results from "original sin" is not something that God placed in the nature of mankind. 

"this evil influence... comes from a source... innate in mankind as a result of crimes of long ago that remain unexpiated... you should take precautions against it... seek the rites that free a man from guilt... seek the company of men who [are] virtuous... run from the company of the wicked... if by doing so, you find that your disease abates somewhat, well and good; if not then you should look on death as the preferable alternative." [Plato "Laws IX" (854b)]
It is the state of affairs of any finite contingent moral agent. It is nothing more than an expression of the "Second Law of Thermodynamics" which states that any system - left to itself - will tend to become disordered. The human body continually fights this tendency with hugely elaborate repair mechanisms, but nothing is perfect and eventually the accumulation of "bodged repairs" results in death. This is a physical analogy of what happens to a moral agent. Even a perfectly just finite moral agent would eventually become corrupt, as a result of the basic instability inherent in perfection. Sadly, there are very many more ways of being wicked than of being virtuous.
"The good is susceptible to becoming bad... but the bad is not susceptible to becoming; it must always be.. It is impossible to be a good man and continue to be good, but possible for one and the same person to become good and also bad; and those are best for the longest time whom the god's love." [Plato "Protagoras" (344d-345c)]
Hence, the first paragraph of critique of this argument fails.

The second paragraph fails because it strives to distinguish two populations: the "good folk" who deserve to be protected from the "wicked folk". In fact, no such destination is possible. The actual spectrum of wickedness is continuous. Even the kindest and gentlest person has a dark side and even the greatest sinner has some positive features. Moreover, if God were to regularly and effectively protect the "better folks" from the "worse folks" this would become very obvious very rapidly; and I take it as axiomatic that God's purposes in creating the Cosmos - whatever they are exactly - require that God remains largely hidden and out-of-sight.

Some suffering and pain is self-inflicted, and is not God's responsibility. For God to prevent this pain would involve Him substantially interfering with human Free-Will. A loving but omnipotent God has to accept such suffering in His Cosmos and respond to it as an independent agent; that is by miraculous intervention, as God judges to be appropriate. The only alternative would have been to refrain from creating at all.

Defence 3: Physical evil is a means to increase moral urgency

"One theistic attempt to explain physical evil is that its existence helps to increase the 'moral urgency' in the world. This 'moral urgency' will bring out the heroic, the virtuous and the good in people. Thus the theist W.D. Niven in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics argues:
'Physical evil has been the goad which has impelled men to most of the achievements which made the history of man so wonderful. Hardship is a stern but fecund parent of invention. Where life is easy because physicals ills are at a minimum we find man degenerating in body, mind and character.. Which is preferable - a grim fight with the possibility of splendid triumph; or no battle at all?'
Thus, according to this argument, war brings out the heroic in men, and earthquakes, famines and plagues brings out the virtuous in those people who fought to odds to bring relief to the victims. It is also implicit in this argument that the total evil of these calamities is outweighed by the occurrence of good and virtue brought about by their occurrence. There are three main defects to this argument for the existence of physical evil; which together shows the argument to be untenable.
  1. Isn't it better to eradicate forever the occurrence of physical evils - such as famine and plagues - than to simply treat the victims when they occur? It is clear to everyone that the former is more desirable. But if that is the case, this would mean that eliminating physical evils would make the world a better, not a worse, place. Accepting that the presence of physical evil makes the world a better place would mean that the elimination of smallpox, the discovery of the polio vaccine and the discovery of the antibiotic are three of the most disastrous events to have happened this century! This is, obviously, an absurd proposition. Therefore the idea that physical evil generates more good is immediately put into question.
  2. The action that results from physical evils are not always due to morally praiseworthy reasons. Thus the formulation of a drug to cure a certain pestilence may be due purely to the profit motive of a pharmaceutical company and has nothing to do with any heroic struggles to do good.
  3. Some physical evil simply cannot be squared away with promoting virtuous actions. The resent outbreak of the ebola virus in Africa is a case to point. The disease kills within a couple of weeks and no cure is possible. What possible good could have resulted from that? Earthquakes volcanic eruptions, floods have been known to kill thousands people instantly, leaving the people behind to simply pick up the pieces. What good came out of those?" [A MySpace Friend (June, 2008)]
My responses to the three objections to this argument are:
  1. The fact that it is good to eradicate physical evils does not mean that the initial presence of those evils might not have served the purpose of evoking heroic virtue. The main way in which the world was better after eradication of Smallpox was in the heroic virtues inculcated in those people who fought hard and long to eradicate the disease, not so much in the mere fact that the disease no longer existed. After all, there are plenty more horrid diseases to go! Moreover, the "world being a better place" is not clearly the proper criterion. "Better for what?" it must be asked. It would not be better for "evoking heroic virtue" to have no opportunities for heroic virtue to be evoked and exercised!
  2. This is true and of no significance. The fact that a response is found that is not "heroic virtue" does not mean that the original cause was not appropriate for the evocation of heroic virtue.
  3. This is largely true - except that in the case of floods and similar there is generally the opportunity for charitable response.
Some suffering is inevitable in any Cosmos. The physics complexities that conspire to make a suitable environment for Life unavoidably have instabilities and other consequences that are experienced as "Earthquakes", "Tornadoes", "Meteorites", "Cancer", "Bubonic Plague" and the like. If God acted to systematically prevent such occurrences, their absence would eventually be noticed and become an overwhelming proof of continual and direct "supernatural" Divine Intervention. On the assumption that it is vital (for some reason or other) that the evidence for God's being is morally avoidable, this is unacceptable. The occasional (or even frequent!) miracle does not have this effect, as any reasonable number of miracles can always be reasonably dismissed as "as yet unexplainable coincidences" or "good luck".

Some forms of pain are essential parts of life. The very concept of "animal life" implies the destruction of other life (food) in order to construct and preserve itself. Even plant life is competitive and strives against other plant life to obtain and secure resources, as any gardener well knows. Life as we know it necessarily involves suffering. According to my definition of life: "order in flux", competition for resources is inevitable. Nature is red in tooth and claw neither because She wants to be so, nor because God chose for Her to be so: but because there is no other way for life to be!

"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." [Rom 8 19-23]
So, according to St Paul, the present natural state of affairs is to be seen as provisional. It is a temporary subjection of created being to the process of evolution with the objective of bringing life to birth. The painful process is justified by the end in view, its teleological hope. The temporary distancing of the human soul from God that is characteristic of mortal life on Earth has a similar justification. It too is painful, it too has a resolution: in the Beatific Vision. 

Of course, it is arguably Man's job to mitigate the pain of nature:

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it." [Gen 1:15]
and to strive to turn the Darwinian wilderness into the Garden of Paradise; where all creatures have their rightful place and needful resources, and can prosper in harmony:
    "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." [Isa 11:6-9]
Death is generally seen to be the greatest evil. It is nothing of the kind - if it is not the extinction of personal identity, but rather the transition to the next stage of its existence. Murder is the greatest crime not because it inflicts the greatest harm on its victim, but because it is the greatest misappropriation of authority on the part of its perpetrator.

Some additional considerations

In the context of eternal life, suffering experienced in this mortal life can always be compensated for. Through Isaiah, God promises:
"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of  weeping and the cry of distress .... They shall not labour in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their children with them. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD." [Isa 65:17-19,23-25]
St John the Divine sees this prophecy fulfilled at the end of time:
"Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." [Apoc 21:3,4]
From this point of view, there is no important "Problem of Pain". No-one will have anything to complain about in the long term! Everyone will receive abundant compensation for whatever suffering they have endured.
"I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us" [Rom 8:18]
However, it seems to me that even transitory suffering has to be justified; to have a purpose or be unavoidably necessary. I do not believe that God takes the callous attitude: "I can't be bothered to make your present life any easier, though I could do so, I suppose. You will just have to show a bit of patience. I'll get round to making it up to you after you die."

The Christian God does not stand by as an impassive onlooker. In Jesus, God chose to experience the last dregs of physical and intellectual and emotional pain [Mat 27:46]. Whoever is to blame for suffering, the impassible God chose to become passible and so bear the whole of the pain of physicality, finitude and futility in his own human Heart. This is the core message of the doctrine of the Incarnation.

It should also be noted that even though we have seen that God is impassible, this does not mean quite what it might seem. Just as the Incarnation enables God the Son (and through Him, the other persons of the Trinity) to experience first hand the joys and pains of human life; so God could more generally experience what it is to be contingent through various energies: created effluences/eminations which God inhabits and through which God interacts with the created order. Examples might be Abraham's Angelic visitors [Gen 18]; the man who wrestled with Jacob [Gen 32:22-52]; Moses' Burning Bush [Ex 3:2]; the Cloud of God's Glory [Ex 24:15-18, 40:34-35; II Chron 5:14]; and Ezekiel's Throne of Majesty [Ezk 1].

Much pain and suffering can be transformed into a positive experience, if only a suitable attitude is adopted towards it. Hence the problem of pain isn't quite as bad as it would seem. However, I do not think that this partial truth does justice to the sufferings of starving children in Ethiopia or sub-Saharan Africa, for example. They are too young to comprehend such a philosophy or to draw any comfort from it. I do not think it proper to tell someone who is starving to death that their suffering is all a matter of perspective, and that they should exercise themselves in adopting a "positive attitude" to their hunger. Neither do I think that it proper to tell those suffering from AIDS that their plight results from "bad karma" accumulated in earlier lives. Jesus tells us explicitly to seek to alleviate suffering, not just accept it as part of reality [Mat 25:32-46].

It can be hoped that God has created "The best of all possible worlds", no matter how unconvincing this may seem. We cannot judge this, for the following reasons.

  1. We don't know the alternatives open to God (apart from "this world" and "no world").
  2. We can't conceive with any degree of certainty what God's objective was in creating the Cosmos. All simple answers, such as "God was lonely" are too naive to be given any credence.
  3. We can't justify any measure of what "best" might be! Even if it was clear that it was the overall sum of all joy and pleasure and fun minus all sorrow and pain and misery (which isn't clear!) then how such a formula be evaluated? The philosophical problems involved are immense and varied. I will restrain myself from discussing them here.
In the end, this is a matter of faith. Once one comes to believe (against some considerable evidence!) that God is just, then one has no choice but to trust God, even when it seems to be nonsensical to do so. One believes in spite of the immediate evidence: because of past personal experience, abstract intellectual conviction, the testimony of Tradition and the witness of the contemporary Church.

Personally, I find the above remarks sufficient to answer the question I have put forward. I accept that the answers I have given are neither complete nor adequate. I suggest that a little reflection tells one that no better kind of answer is possible. After all, we are on the inside of the problem and so cannot be objective. I know that the occasional cry of my heart "Oh dear God, why did you make, us when our lives are so full of tears?" is adequately answered, for me, by the promise of Jesus: "Behold, I make all things New" [Apoc 21:5], and this I choose to believe.

Some mistaken ideas of God

Deism

One response to the problem of pain is to distance God from responsibility for and involvement with the Cosmos. The God of Deism is a remote figure who "watches from a distance" [Julie Gold], with no particular interest in and certainly no commitment to "the world that He created" [Queen]. This is, I think, a logical possibility, and I will not attempt to refute it here. Of course, it is quite foreign to the Judaeo-Christian tradition; and incompatible with the idea that God is either loving or just; but I do not seek to establish either of these propositions here, dear though they both be to my heart!

Dualism

Another response to the presence of evil in the world is to hypothesize that it has a primary source, other than God. This may be "Ahriman" of the ancient and noble Parsee (Zoroastrian) religion or "Lord Foul" of Stephen Donaldson's mythical "Land" [The "Unbeliever" series of fantasy books]. This makes it possible to insulate God from all possibility of moral blame. The Judaeo-Christian tradition has always rejected this. While Satan is a feature of their theologies, the Devil and demons are only bit players; they are nothing more than examples of denizens of entirely spiritual realms who are wrongdoers in the same way that human beings are. Such is Tolkein's vision of Sauron in his classic "The Lord of the Rings". While Satan (Sauron) may be responsible for tempting many humans (the Ring Wraiths) to sin [Gen 3:1, Job 1:6], his responsibility is not different in kind from the responsibility that a lesser being, for example Saruman, can have in leading others down the wide road to "The Destructions".

According to the Christian tradition, evil is not a "thing in itself", a "substance" that can infect, possess or subvert other things, as vividly portrayed as a smoking coal in the film "The Time Bandits" [Terry Gillian] or as the "Illearth Stone" in the book of that name [Steven Donaldson]. Rather evil is a defect in reality, a distortion of the truth: a disordering of things that are in themselves  entirely good, simply because they are. Evil is a lie, as good is the truth. It is not true to say that good and evil are two sides of the same coin, or that each requires the other in order to exist. Good is peace, harmony and wholeness - "Shalom", and has no need for conflict, discord or disease for its excellence to be manifest. On the contrary, even in the greatest evil there is necessarily a core of good. The most perverted act is a misguided attempt to obtain what is perceived to be of benefit. Evil wishes for its own good, and is (sadly) reinforced in its wickedness by its inevitable failure to achieve this desired end.

Because evil is not a substance there is no need to hypothesize a source for it. While good isn't a substance either, the Christian tradition identifies it with "being in itself". The ultimate good of any-thing is simply to exist, the purpose of Life is to Live! God, while no-thing: is Being [Ex 3:14] is Good [Mk 10:18] is Love [1Jn 4:8]. This analysis contrasts starkly with that of Buddhism, which tends to identify existence with striving, suffering and pain (so: existence is evil, not good; and God is not!) and prescribes the pursuit of passivity and non-existence (blending back into the background) as the practical answer to the Problem of Pain.

The source of order and meaning

It may seem odd that I give this as an example of a mistaken idea of God. My point is this: the Problem of Pain can be improperly dealt with by redefining what is "good" and "nobel" and "just" and "loving" as being whatever God says it is. This is a cop out! Over two millennia ago, Socrates asked the question "is piety that which the gods approve of; or rather do the gods approve of piety?" He meant: is that which is good good because of an extrinsic arbitrary diktat from heaven; or is it rather that heaven recognizes what is good as an objective observer, and then recommends it to us, as a friend would? If one says that the purpose of everything; all goodness and beauty; justice, the standard of what is right and wrong: "the meaning of it all" are derivative of the Will of God, then one makes God into a despot. He is free of all responsibility to explain Himself to us; to set us any kind of example of morality in His dealings with us or to accept challenge from us. The Problem of Pain then does not arise. God is loving and just only so far as our limited concepts happen to match up with God's inscrutable nature, and what might seem to us to be reprehensible, is "in fact" legitimate - just because God chooses to say that it is so!

Of course, as God is, ex hypothesis, the basis, origin and creative source of the Cosmos: it is God that determined (to within whatever freedom logic allowed) the specifics of its constitution. God inevitably decided "what was good", in the sense that God may have chosen to create one of a number of possible self consistent realities. To this extent, God rules His Cosmos by diktat. God decided which Universe to make: this one and no other - setting aside the possibility that God has made very many (or even all possible) Universes. God is answerable to no-one other than God outside of the Act of Creation: though within that very act, God took on board a moral responsibility for and towards what God created. The fact that God made a Cosmos in which sentient beings consider that a maker has a responsibility of care towards the made [Pinnochio and the film "A.I."] tells a great deal about the character of God.

Finally, it is good simply to be. God cannot possibly vary or spin this. God is being in itself. From this point of view, God has no choice in setting up the ethics of the Cosmos. Contrary to my (inadequate!) understanding of the tenets of Buddhism, the foundational principle of ethics is the goodness of existence, and all detailed morality flows from that once the specific nature of the ethical agents is set.

Urizen the Lawgiver
Perhaps the most extreme version of this error was encapsulated by William Blake, who parodied the god of respectable religious folk and the establishment of his day as the great rule maker or engineer in the sky. This god, was for Blake, a source of constraint, guilt and misery: an oppressor rather than a saviour; a graceless proponent of fear and hatred rather than love. Ironically, Blake proposed that the popular "Satan" was a happier notion than this; for the "vice" that he offered was often more wholesome, healthy and joyful than the supposed virtue of grey ecclesial folk [Songs of Experience; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell]. Of course, Blake saw Newton's mechanistic physics as implicated in all this; but at that time there was no idea that "to determine" and "to cause" were in any way different.

Some arguments for God's being

The Ontological Argument [courtesy of my Second MySpace friend, Andrew (September 2008) - somewhat edited]

This argument was first mentioned by Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the eleventh century. I first read about this argument in a philosophy class I took a few years back. After I realized what the argument consisted of, with good reason I laughed at it as being completely ridiculous and absurd. I am also sure that almost everyone else who reads about this argument will at first think it is absurd. Here is the deductive reasoning that this argument uses:
  1. Suppose that: "the greatest or best or most perfect conceivable being (GCB) is no more than an idea in the mind, having no objective reality."
  2. We can conceive of a being that is identical in form, pattern and constitution to the GCB that we have supposed, but that actually exists in objective reality as well as in some mind.
    • As the GCB is by definition conceivable (and so coherent and without intrinsic contradiction or conflict) 

    • there is nothing as such to prevent it from being real save for arbitrary circumstances; that is contingencies.
    • Hence, it is certainly possible to conceive of the GCB as being objectively real.
    • Note that we have simply conceived of it up to now. This fact alone does not in any way make it real!
  3. The state of having objective reality is superior to that of being no more than an idea in the mind.
    • This I am happy to grant, but it is disputable - see below.
  4. Therefore, there is a conceivable being that is greater - or better or more perfect - than what we had supposed to be the greatest conceivable being.
  5. This is impossible, for it is a direct contradiction and absurd.
    • This is not altogether true, for supposing and conceiving are not obviously the same - see below.
  6. Therefore, it must be false that: "the GCB  is no more than an idea of the mind, having no objective reality."
  7. So the GCB must be objectively real.
    • One can easily see that this second possibility does not lead to any contradiction.
  8. This being is, by definition - ar at least general use! - "God".
Just by looking at this we get the idea that there is something wrong here, even if at first we cannot figure out exactly what is wrong. As Bertrand Russell said: 
"It is easier to feel convinced that it must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies."
However, even if we ourselves cannot imagine what is wrong with this argument, we can read what other thinkers have had to say about it. Richard Dawkins has said: 
"The most definitive refutations of the ontological argument are usually attributed to the philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Kant identified the trick card up Anselm's sleeve as his slippery assumption that 'existence' is more 'perfect' than non-existence."
The American philosopher Norman Malcolm put it like this:
'The doctrine that existence is a perfection is remarkably queer. It makes sense and is true to say that my future house will be a better one if it is insulated than if it is not insulated; but what could it mean to say that it will be a better house if it exists than if it does not?'
What does "better" mean? It means "provides greater advantage to its possessor in regard to those matters which it might be expected to be advantageous in" or "serves its purpose more adequately". Better is a teleological term. Now a house that exists only as a set of perfect plans provides no advantage - as a house - to its possessor whatsoever! A house that actually exists (even if it is far from the ideal house) is indefinitely better (more useful or effective) than a house that exists only in concept. 

On the other hand the plans for a mansion (together with possession of funds adequate to construct it) might be preferable to an actually existing log cabin. Hence, it is impossible to establish a non-arbitrary metric for "better" when more than a single criterion (such as total floor area or resilience to earthquake damage or level of thermal insulation) is concerned. Hence it is impossible to identify one thing as greater than another thing unless the former excells (or at least equals) the latter in each and every regard.

Kant believes that the fatal flaw in the argument is treating existence as a first-order predicate, which adds something to the concept of an entity. In other words, he believes that the ontological argument absurdly defines a thing into existence by adding existence to its attributes. We can imagine a "Greatest Possible Computer", which would not be the greatest if it did not exist - therefore it must exist! However, we can easily see why this is faulty logic. All we did was define our greatest imaginable computer as existent and then claim that it must exist based on this definition. As already mentioned, this is absurd because we can then define anything into existence, which is ridiculous.
Why is it ridiculous? It is ridiculous because for any "greatest conceivable THING" (GCT) either the amount of matter that would be needed to constitute it must necessarily exceed the quantity of matter in the entire finite universe; or else the granular, atomic and quantum nature of matter would prevent its realization on the microscopic scale. Hence there is always at least one "arbitrary circumstance" or "contingency" that necessarily prevents us conceiving any GCT (not just the Greatest Conceivable Computer, but also the "Greatest Conceivable Tooth-pick" - which would have to be perfectly sharp and perfectly unbreakable) as existing in reality. This circumstance is simply "physicality" or, indeed, "existence" itself! 

This circumstance fails to apply as soon as one abstracts one's thought beyond "material things" and "existence" to consider "beings in general" that do not obviously have to be part of the physical contingent order. Hence this criticism of the Ontological Argument (and the "weakness" which it manifests) serves our purposes exactly. It prevents it from being applied to any thing that we might imagine (and so prevents us from defining myriads of greatest things into existence) without in any way compromising the application of the argument to exactly that one sole question which it had originally been crafted to address: namely the reality of God - and, possibly, of the Ideal Forms.

David Hume explained it more eloquently than I can. While reading David Hume's famous book, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, which happens to be my favourite philosophy book, I was excited to read about his views concerning arguments such as the ontological argument. Hume wrote the book as a dialogue between three learned men, which makes it uncertain exactly which views truly belong to him; but nevertheless, I am confident that these next words accurately reflects what he believed. He said, through the character named Cleanthes:
"I shall begin with observing, that there is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being, whose existence is demonstrable. I propose this argument as entirely decisive, and am willing to rest the whole controversy upon it." 
This is true of any contingent being (any "thing" that "exists") but not of God. God does not exist. God simply is.
Then directly after that he goes further, to enhance his point:
"It is pretended, that the deity is a necessarily existent being, and this necessity of his existence is attempted to be explained by asserting, that, if we knew his whole essence or nature, we should perceive it to be as impossible for him not to exist as for twice two not to be four. But it is evident, that this can never happen, while our faculties remain the same as at present. It will still be possible for us, at any time, to conceive the non-existence of what we formerly conceived to exist; nor can the mind ever lie under a necessity of supposing any object to remain always in being; in the same manner as we lie under a necessity of always conceiving twice to be four. The words, therefore, 'necessary existence' have no meaning; or which is the same thing, none that is consistent."
The fact that we cannot conceive in specifics of the being of God does not invalidate the Ontological Argument. 

The fact that one can assert that it is possible "to conceive of God not existing" is not at all the same as saying that it is in fact possible "to ratoinally and coherrently conceive of God not being." In particular, it is true that: "God does not exist"!

The fact that such a great mind as Anselm thought that the Ontological Argument was true should give us pause for thought. I shall return to this topic later on.

The Argument from Design

This proposes that God must exist because the world (and in particular life) is simply too complicated to have come about of itself. Finding a watch on the beach is tantamount to knowing that somewhere and when there is or was a watchmaker. Before it became clear that Darwinian Natural Selection could effectively favour the growth of complexity and diversity over geological time, this argument was a powerful one. Nowadays it is generally out of favour; though in a more abstract form it is re-emerging as "The Anthropic Principle", which will be discussed below.

The Five Ways of Aquinas

Following Aristotle and Plato, St. Thomas proposed five arguments for the being of God. To modern ears they are all variations on the same argument, but no less forceful for that. This single argument can be named "The Cosmological Argument from Contingency". I believe this argument to be valid. Before spending some time on it, I wish to give a brief account of the relevant Catholic Dogma.

The teaching of the Oecumenical Council of the Vatican

In brief, it is defined Catholic Dogma that "the fact that God is" can be known with certainty as a result of the consideration of the nature of physical reality. Naturally, the use of the word certainty should not be taken to indicate that this knowledge is more certain than any other! As a Platonist, I can only generally aspire to ortho-doxa (right belief) in this life, and all belief is provisional and subject to unexpected variation. I take the Vatican Council to mean by its use of the word certainty that the kind of knowledge that one can reasonably have of God's being is every bit as good and respectable as the best of any other kind of knowledge. In other words, we are not talking about "religious faith" here - though faith of a sort enters into any knowledge, even that possessed by the most atheistical scientist. It should be immediately obvious that this conciliar definition implicitly questions whether any purely metaphysical argument is could be valid; though, just as obviously, it does not exclude this as a possibility.

A physicist's view of contingency

It is a fundamental expectation of physics, based on unvarying experience of physical reality, that every thing and phenomenon that one encounters, experiences or interacts (exchanges energy and momentum) with is contingent. This means that it makes sense to ask of this thing or phenomenon: "Why is it what it is?", or "How does it come to be what it is?" or "What gave (or gives) rise to this?" In other words, the physicist presumes that everything that he experiences or observes requires explanation. It is never good enough to say that "It is what it is because it is so." Physics does not deal with "Just So" stories. 
"Wise men claim that partnership and friendship; orderliness, self-control and justice hold together heaven and earth; and gods and men, and that is why they call this universe a world order, my friend and not an undisciplined world-disorder." [Plato "Gorgias" (508a)]
Now, once one clearly understands this, it would seem to follow that the whole Cosmos must, on the same basis, be contingent: I shall return to this point. 
"When we find one thing producing a change in another... will there ever be in such a sequence, an original cause of change?  How could anything whose motion is transmitted to it from something else be the first thing to effect an alteration?... the entire sequence of their movements must surely spring from some initial principle; which can hardly be anything except the change effected by self-generated motion." [Plato "Laws X" (895a)]
In which case, the Cosmos itself requires explanation. Note that the expectation of physics that all things are contingent only relates to that category of being called "things": with which an observer can exchange energy and momentum. Of being other than things (if indeed there is any being other than things) physics has no knowledge, still less expectations!

So, for a Physicist, the Cosmos requires an explanation: or "a cause", speaking metaphysically. Why is it that the Cosmos in fact it is? Why does it have the dynamics that it has? Why is it governed by the Laws of Physics that it is in fact governed by, and not by other Laws? Why do the fundamental constants that feature in these Laws have the values that they do in fact have? Why does space-time happen to have the dimensionality that in fact it has? Why is the Cosmos in the particular (low entropy) state now that we find it to be in? Why, in fact, is the Cosmos at all?  One can label the required explanation for all this "God: the UnCaused First Cause; the UnMoving First Mover; the UnGoverned Law Giver, etc. etc."

"All things that are so, are equally removed from being nothing; and whatsoever hath any being is by that being a glass in which we see God, who is the root and the fountain of all being. The whole frame of nature is the theatre; the whole volume of creatures in the glass; and the light of nature, Reason, is our light." [John Donne]
What Causes God?
The immediate howl of derision from the less astute observer (excuse my humour) to the effect that: "This is silly! All you have done is to replace the problem 'Who made the World?' with the problem 'What caused God?'"  is easily answered. The objector may be referred to the observation already made: that the expectation that all things are contingent does not relate in any way to "God". This is because there is no expectation that God is any kind of thing: that any observer within the Cosmos (such as you or I) could ever exchange energy and momentum with God. God is entirely outside space-time. Of God physics has no knowledge, still less expectations!

God is not part of the Cosmos. God does not interact with physical reality in the sense of exchanging energy and momentum. After all, this would contradict the law of energy and momentum conservation. Although God is the foundation of all that physically is, God is not physically at all! God does not exist in the way that any physical thing exists. While God underwrites the Laws of Physics, God is not governed by them: God is no thing and they simply do not apply to God. It is improper to combine God with the Cosmos to make some larger whole (perhaps on the basis that God acts miraculously within the Cosmos) and then ask what is its cause? This is wrong because we have no reason to believe that God has anything except "being" in common with the Cosmos. and every reason to believe that the kind of being that God has is very different from the kind of being that the Cosmos has. Putting God and the Cosmos together in order to compose a "greater reality" is highly suspect, on the basis that they have no commonality and therefore no connection or basis for combination.

We can have no expectations of  God: except, it would appear, that God is. Unlike all physical things, one can presume that God is noncontingent; that God is necessary being: God is what God is because God is unavoidably so. God (who is no thing) is so, just as nothing else is so!

"Of God himself can no man think. And therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think. For why: he may well be loved, but not thought. By love may he be gotten and holden, but by thought never. And therefore, though it be good sometime to think of  the kindness and the worthiness of God in special, and although it be a light and a part of contemplation, nevertheless yet in this work it shall be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt step above it stalwartly, but listily, with a devout and a pleasing stirring of love, and try for to pierce that darkness above thee. And smite upon that thick   cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love; and go not thence for (any)thing that befalleth."
[Anon "The Cloud of Unknowing"]

"Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essences do not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent, beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being.. God would be the only necessary being - if God existed." [Peter Kreeft: "The First Cause Argument"]

Logical alternatives to Monotheism

It seems to me that there are a number of logical alternatives to this conclusion, however all strike me as less congenial or more contrived than the simple conclusion that God is. The alternatives that I can think of are:
  • The Cosmos as a whole is (somehow) noncontingent, even though its parts are contingent. This theory is identifiable as Pantheism.
    • I suppose that it might just about be possible that everything has a Platonic "participation in being".
    • In which case, the "larger" something is, the more fully it "participates in being": requires less external explanation.
      • On the Microscopic scale of Quantum Mechanics, existence is fragile:

      • hence all the problems that physicists have with "the collapse of the wave packet" and "wave-particle duality"; 
      • on the Macroscopic scale of normal human experience existence is experienced as robust but contingent
      • and on the Cosmic scale existence is necessary
    • Personally, I like this theory as a poetic sequence of pleasant words, but don't think that it could be made to mean anything! 

    • If it could, then it would reduce to Pantheism.
  • Many modern physicists pursue this possibility further, conceiving of an infinity of parallel universes each having its own arbitrary set of laws.
    • In such a plethora of possibilities, everything is certain and nothing unlikely - let alone impossible!
    • It seems to me that this way lies madness, as there is no possibility of explaining or understanding anything. Everything is exactly what it is just because it is so in this arbitrary world in which we happen to live which is indefinitely similar to an infinity of other worlds only distinguished from it by vanishingly small discrepancies. 
    • This theory doesn't account for the reality of the MultiVerse, of course. It simply takes its being as necessary without noticing that it is doing so. 
    • While describing the Multiverse in the same manner as everything else is described (and so tacitly placing it in the category of "thing") the Multiverse is raised to the level of the "unquestionably necessary" - and so equated to either "God"
      • - which amounts to Pantheism, or
      • "The Mind of God" - which amounts to Monotheism.
  • The fundamental presumption of Physics is wrong.
    • In fact, there is one or more noncontingent things (rather like inverse Black Holes) within the Cosmos: sources of being (the metric itself, space-time and the Laws of Physics) which are the uncaused causes of everything else. 
    • In effect this is Polytheism
    • Rather than postulating one transcendent omnipotent and omniscient God outside space-time, one postulates an indeterminate number of local deities.
    • This is, it strikes me, much less tidy; restrained, economical and generally satisfactory than the Monotheistic hypothesis. 
    • Note that Polytheism with one local god is not at all the same as Monotheism. 
  • The Cosmos is an illusion and does not really exist. 
    • All that exists is my mind. I am therefore God. 
    • This is "Solipsism" an extreme form of the Philosophical system called "Idealism" (named in contrast to "Materialism"). 
    • Although irrefutable, the fact it implies that I can imagine geniuses such as Bach and Einstein who are capable of work that is utterly beyond my own competence makes it implausible, in my view. Buddhism tends to this kind of world view.

The Ontological Argument revisited [courtesy of my Second MySpace friend, Andrew (September 2008) - somewhat edited]

I have come to realize that I have been completely misunderstanding the Ontological Argument. This may be because Anselm and other proponents of this argument have not been clear in explaining the argument. The philosophy of Rene Descartes has been extremely important to modern philosophy. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that this brilliant philosopher believed that the Ontological Argument was indeed proof of God's objective reality. I immediately thought to myself that there is no way that he is not aware of the huge problems contained within the Ontological Argument. I then concluded that a man as smart as he was must have understood something about it that I am not grasping. So I read parts of his book "Meditation" in hopes of finding this proper understanding of the Argument. I found it.

Included with the publication of his Meditations were Objections and Replies. Since many philosophers of his time did not agree with him, they wrote objections to his work. He then took those objections, replied to them and then included them in his book. The other day I wrote my own objection to his argument. Then I read the first objection in his book and satisfied myself that this objection was pretty much identical with my own. The objection written in the book is as follows:

"Even if it is granted that:
  • a supremely perfect being, by its very nature, implies existence
it still does not follow that such an existence is something that is actually present in the nature of things, but only that:
  • the concept of existence is inseparably linked with the concept of a supreme being. 
You cannot deduce from this that the existence of God is something actual, unless you presuppose that God is a supreme being who actually exists. If that were true, it would actually include all perfections, including the perfection of real existence."
That objection captures exactly why most people think the ontological argument is flawed. Just because we can conceive of a concept which can only be conceived as including existence, does not mean that it actually exists based on our conception of it. [This is not what the Ontological Argument, properly framed, does - Pharsea] Hence, imagining the "perfect computer" does not make it exist! 

Putting it another way:

  • Is it possible to conceive of (imagine in the abstract) the GCB as having reality while believing or definitely supposing (postulating in reality) that it does not?
    • If it is coherent to do so, then the fact that we can conceive of the GCB as objectively real is not inconpatible with the following version of our first supposition:
    • Suppose that: "the GCB, while being truly conceived of as real is in fact not so; but rather is no more than imaginary."
    • Hence, it is not possible to show that this version or our supposition is absurd by the means presented here.
    • Hence the Ontological Argument fails.
  • I argue that it is not possible to conceive of the GCB as having reality while supposing that it does not.
    • Conceiving and supposing are indestinguishable and interchangeable.
    • Hence, it is not possible to consistently suppose "A" while conceiving of "not-A".
    • Whenever I conceive of X as being objectively real, then I am supposing X to be objectively real.
    • Whenever I conceive of X as not being objectively real, then I am supposing X not to be objectively real.
    • Hence, if I suppose the GCB to be no more than imaginary, then that which I suppose the GCB to be must be conceived of as being no more than imaginary.
We must therefore assume either that Rene Descartes does not know what he is talking about, or that he has a different understanding of this. Just as might be expected, he directly answers this problem in his reply. Descartes argument is as follows:
  1. Whatever we understand clearly and distinctly as belonging to the true and immutable nature, essence, or form of something, can be truly predicated of it.
  2. When we have examined with sufficient care what God is, we understand clearly and distinctly that it belongs to his true and immutable nature that he exists.
  3. Therefore, we can then truly predicate of him that he exists.
Notice the difference between his deduction and the aforementioned ones. Unlike the other ones, this one gives you a taste of epistemology. Of course as it stands right now, we are still not sure how or if this solves the difficulty. One might think that this is just a fancy way of explaining the argument. Let me leave it up to his words to further clear this up.
"The conclusion at least follows correctly, in this case, from the premises. Now the major premise cannot be denied either, since it was already agreed earlier that 'everything that we understand clearly and distinctly [That is, have episteme of - Pharsea] is true.' Only the minor premise remains, and I agree that there is a significant difficulty in this."
Before we go any further, let me provide an example to explain the statement "everything that we understand clearly and distinctly is true." Only if we clearly and distinctly understand the concept of "triangle", do we understand what is true about the form of the triangle. Now, according to David Hume, "Nothing is demonstrable unless the contrary implies a contradiction." When we realized that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the squares of the sides (Pythagorean Theorem), we also realized that we did not invent this. We discovered a form of equality which was already contained in our concept of a right-angled triangle. The form of a right-angled triangle is objective, which means that it is uninfluenced by our opinions. The Pythagorean theorem was true before we discovered it, in the same way that the sun was the centre of the solar system before we discovered it to be so. If it can be demonstrated that a certain concept contains necessary being as part of its form, then should we not be convinced of its being with the same certainty that we know two plus two equals four? But what does that mean? I will leave it up to Descartes to elaborate.
"[In the first place,] we are so used to making a distinction in everything else between existence and essence that we do not realize adequately the extent to which existence belongs to the essence of God more than in the case of other things. 

[Secondly,] if we do not distinguish 

  • what "belongs to the true and immutable essence of something" 
from 
  • what "can be predicated of it only by a figment of the intellect", 
then even if we realize adequately that existence belongs to the essence of God, we fail to draw the conclusion that God exists because we do not know whether his essence is immutable and true or merely one of our figments."
Hence, we are still unsure if the ontological argument is valid or not. Even if we realize that our concept of God requires existence as part of it, how do we know if this is not just a concept of ours which does not represent reality? What is reality anyway? Reality is defined as what is actual, or which is the case objectively - independent of and impervious to our will or desire. Based on that definition, the essence of a triangle is real. But more importantly, what separates the concept of God from our concept of the perfect computer? Are we not still claiming that they both need to exist?  The perfect computer would have to exist to be perfect, but this fact doesn't make it exist - how about God? We shall see the answer.
"But in order to remove [the first part of] this difficulty, we need to distinguish between possible existence and necessary existence, and we should note that 
  • possible existence is contained in the concept or idea of everything that is clearly and distinctly understood. 
  • However, necessary existence is contained only in the idea of God. 
Whoever is careful in paying attention to this difference between the idea of God and all other ideas will undoubtedly realize that, although we understand all other things only as if they existed, it does not follow that they exist but simply that they are capable of existing. For we understand that it is not necessary for actual existence to be combined with their other properties. But from the fact that we understand actual existence to be combined necessarily and always with the other attributes of God, it certainly does follow that God exists."
Basically, just because we conceive of things as existing, does not mean they have actual existence. We already agreed on this when we realized that Anselm's presentation of the Ontological Argument is absurd because we cannot define things into existence. My concept of a perfect computer does not logically contain actual existence although I can conceive that it does happen to exists.

Now that I have reiterated that I cannot define computers into existence by slapping a "perfect" label on it, what is the argument for God's existence? We will have to demonstrate that necessary and actual existence is truly contained in the idea of God, so that it would logically follow without contradictions that God does exist. But once again we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. Let us refer back to Descartes.

"To remove [the second part of] the difficulty, it should be noted that ideas that do not contain true and immutable natures - but are merely fictitious natures which are invented by the intellect - are capable of being divided in this way [he is going to describe the way in a moment - Pharsea] by that same intellect, not only by abstraction but by a clear and distinct mental operation. Thus any idea that cannot be divided in this way by the intellect was certainly not composed by it in the first place.

For example, when I think about a winged horse, an actually existing lion or a triangle drawn inside a square, I easily understand that I can also think, conversely, about a horse without wings, a non existing lion, or a triangle without a square, and so on, and therefore these ideas do not have true and immutable natures. However, if I think about a triangle or a square (I will not use the examples of a lion or a horse, because their natures are not completely clear to us), then certainly I can assert truthfully of the triangle whatever I understand as being contained in the idea of a triangle - for example, that its three angles are equal to two right angles, etc. Likewise, I can claim that whatever I find contained in the idea of a square is true. And even though I am able to understand a triangle while abstracting from [he means "ignoring" or "discounting" - Pharsea] the fact that its three angles are equal to two right angles, I still cannot deny, by means of clear and distinct operation, that is has that property - that is, if I understand correctly what I am saying. Besides, if I think about a triangle drawn inside a square and avoid attributing to the square what belongs only to the triangle, or to the triangle what belongs to the square, and if I examine only those properties which result from the combination of the two figures, its nature would not be any less true and immutable than the nature of a triangle or a square considered separately. Thus it would be appropriate to claim that the square is not less than twice the area of the triangle drawn inside it, and other similar things, which belong to the nature of this composite figure."

I admit that this sounds complicated and is even hard to grasp. But if we read this carefully and remove all of our prejudices, we can start to understand what he was writing about, even if we do not agree. In this last quote, he explains that any idea or concept which does not contain true and immutable nature is capable of being changed in our mind. That is to say that we cannot truly conceive of "a perfect flying horse" for we are able to change our conception of the flying horse because its essence is not immutable. [In which case, what would be the basis for deciding which of many incremental alternatives would count as the "perfect" one - bay or sorrel for example, mare or stallion; fire breathing or not? - Pharsea] We cannot do anything similar with things that represent immutable forms, such as triangles and squares. We cannot change the essence of a triangle into the essence of a square. If we take our concept of a triangle and imagine that it has four sides instead of three, we are not changing the essence of a triangle but simply thinking about something else entirely different!

We are still left wondering why we should conceive of God as actually existing. In order for this to work, we have to first establish what we mean when we say "God". If you realize that your idea of "God" is anything different than what is being discussed in this argument, then you need to momentarily abandon your idea of God in order to take part in this. I have heard about people who think of "God" as simply logic which always existed and is not powerful at all. While that is just fine to believe, if we are discussing an argument which involves a specific definition of "God" then we have to make sure that we do not ignore this argument simply because we define "God" differently. If we judge this argument based on a different idea of "God", that would be like trying to discuss baseball with someone when your definition of baseball is the sport called football. With that said, the notion of "God" in question here is simply that of "the supremely perfect being." This will make more sense as I call on Descartes words again. 

"However, if I thought that existence is contained in the idea of a supremely perfect body, because to exist both in reality and in the intellect is a greater perfection than to exist only in the intellect, I could not thereby conclude that such a supremely perfect body exists but only that it is capable of existing. For I am well able to recognize that 
  • such an idea was constructed by my own intellect, by combining together all physical perfections at the same time, 
and that
  • existence does not result from those other perfections; on the contrary, one can just as easily affirm or deny the existence of them. 
Indeed, while examining the idea of a [material] body I perceive no power in it by which it can produce itself or conserve itself in existence; from this I conclude validly that necessary existence, which alone is in question here, no more belongs to the nature of a [material] body, no matter how perfect it is, than it belongs to the nature of a mountain that it does not have a valley or to the nature of a triangle that it has angles which together are greater than two right angles."
So we cannot logically conclude that the supremely perfect material body has actual or necessary existence. The supremely perfect material body does not have a true and immutable nature and can be changed in our minds. Also, this material body has not the power to produce or conserve itself in existence [in other words it is contingent on other material bodies for its existence - Pharsea]. This will be the last time we have to wonder exactly where this going, because the next quote will explain all. Read it slowly and then read it again.
"However, if we now ask not about a [material] body but about something else (whatever it happens to be) that possesses all possible perfections at the same time, whether existence should be included among them, we shall initially have doubts about it. Our mind, which is finite, is used to thinking about those perfections only separately and therefore it may not notice immediately how they are necessarily combined together. But if we examine carefully whether existence - and what kind of existence - belongs to a supremely perfect being, we shall be able to perceive the following clearly and distinctly. 
  • Firstly, that at least possible existence belongs to it just as it belongs to all other things of which we have distinct ideas, even to those which are invented by a figment of our intellect. 
  • Then if we acknowledge its immense power, we cannot think that its existence is possible unless, at the same time, we acknowledge that it can exist by its own power, and we shall conclude from this that it really exists and that it existed from eternity. For it is very well known by the natural light of reason that anything which is capable of existing by its own power always exists. 
  • We shall thus understand that necessary existence is contained in the idea of a supremely powerful being, not by a figment of our intellect, but because it belongs to the true and immutable nature of such a being that it exists. 
  • We shall also easily perceive that such a supremely powerful being is incapable of not having in itself all the other perfections that are contained in the idea of God and, therefore, without any figment of our intellect and by their own nature, they are combined together and they exist in God."
This last quote explains that necessary existence is inseparable from the concept of God, so long as we clearly and distinctly understand the concept. Because we clearly and distinctly understand a triangle, we understand that its essence is true and immutable. Descartes basically claims that to deny God's existence is tantamount to denying that a triangle has three sides, because "necessary existence" is contained within God's true and immutable nature, which can only be realized if we clearly and distinctly understand the concept of God. But Hume warned us that "Nothing is demonstrable unless the contrary implies a contradiction." Is it demonstrable that God exists? According to Descartes realization of the true and immutable nature of the concept we call God, is incompatible with imagining that God does not exist. Since God's non-existence implies a contradiction, it is logically demonstrable that God does exist.

This is why Descartes believed that he proved that God exists with mathematical certainty, in the same way that he can prove the essence of a triangle. So how well does Descartes establish that existence is part of God's true and immutable form? As we realized earlier, that which is true and immutable cannot be changed in our minds. We cannot imagine a triangle as being a four-sided figure, as long as we clearly and distinctly understand a triangle. The clear and distinct understanding of "God" is as "the supremely perfect and powerful being". This being, by necessity, contains the power to produce or conserve itself in existence. It is a contradiction to imagine a supremely perfect being as not being all-powerful or non-existent. The form of "God" is true and immutable because after we understand its character we cannot change "God's" form in our mind without reaching a contradiction, just like a triangle.

Putting it another way:

  • Major Premise: Suppose that the Greatest Conceivable Being (the GCB) is a thing (and so is contingent).
    • It follows that this supposed GCB does not necessarily have to be real.
    • Hence, it must be possible to conceive of this supposedly GCB as not being real;

    • for all things which are in fact true must (at least in principle) be conceivable.
    • Now, it is also possible to conceive of the GCB as being real; 

    • because the fact that the supposedly GCB is conceivable means that there is nothing intrinsic to the "supposedly GCB, conceived as unreal" to stop it being real.
  • Minor Premis: Furthermore, the "supposedly GCB, conceived of as real" is greater than the "supposedly GCB, conceived of as unreal".
    • Hence the "supposedly GCB conceived of as unreal" is not in fact the GCB.
    • Hence the major premise is contradicted as absurd.
    • Hence its negation must be true.
  • Conclusion:  the Greatest Conceivable Being (the GCB or God) is not a thing and is non-contingent and so necessarily real.
The premises of the OA are, it seems to me:
  1. There is truth and falsehood.
  2. Argument and thought can and ought to be rational.
  3. The rules of classical logic are a good representation of ratioanlity.
  4. There is being.
  5. It is correct to speak of beings.
  6. It is correct to make a distinction between "real" and "imaginary" beings.
  7. It is correct to speak of "value" and of "more" and "less".
  8. It is possible, in principle, to attribute relative value to beings.
  9. The real has value over and above the imaginary.
What happens if we conceive of an all-powerful, all perfect computer? Does this mean that this computer must necessarily exist? The answer is no; because - as we learned earlier - a computer does not have a true and immutable nature. We can easily, in our minds, divide and change our conceived attributes of a computer (my perfect computer runs Windows Vista or maybe it runs Windows XP  [neither is my idea of perfection! - Pharsea]), which means that we know it to be no more than a figment of our intellect.

We must of course make sure we understand exactly what Descartes understood "God" to be, which in his own words he said,

"By the word 'God' I understand some infinite substance, which is independent, supremely intelligent and supremely powerful, and by which both I, and everything else that exists (if anything else exists) were created."
By what he thought to be a clear and distinct understanding of "God", he was able to logically deduce that "God" exists. I have been thinking about this for days and cannot refute his reasoning. Whether I can or cannot refute this, I think this is the most brilliant argument for "God's" existence that I have ever read. To deny Anselm's version of the ontological argument is reasonable, but to deny Descartes version is on the same level as denying the mathematical certainty of the essence of a triangle. Or is it? Am I just thinking too hard about this and not realizing what is wrong with it? Or is it possible that this argument really does prove that "God" exists?
"The real question is: Is there anything we can think of which, by the mere fact that we can think of it, is shown to exist outside our thought? Every philosopher would like to say yes, because a philosopher's job is to find out things about the world by thinking rather than observing. If yes is the right answer, there is a bridge from pure abstract thought to things. If not, not." [Bertrand Russell]
Dear Andrew,
  1. You are almost certainly a Platonist - whether you know it or not - and definitely an "Objective Realist".
  2. You have a firm grasp of the idea of God - again this is most unusual for people of today. It is absolutely necessary to understand about God (as you clearly do) that "what God is" (the "essence" or FORM of God) is entirely and absolutely and precisely identical with "the Good" which is "unqualified, robust and necessary BEING".
  3. I prefer to restrict "exist" to what Descartes calls "bodies" and I call "things". I do not believe that God is in any way a "thing" and so, for me "God is nothing" and "God does not exist", but nevertheless "God is" - has being, that is. I find that these two statements make thinking and arguing about God much more definitive.
However, on a first reading, it seems to me that you have only established the proposition: "IF God is, then God is necessarily."

It further seems to me that::

  • The fact that I think that I can conceive of "perfect being" or "necessary being" doesn't mean that I am not making a mistake when think that I have so conceived. Perhaps I am wrong to conceive it. Perhaps it is a delusion. Perhaps the idea of "perfect being" or "necessary being" involves a basic contradiction which you and I haven't yet noticed?
  • It is not true that anything that is capable of "existing" by its own power does "exist". There are two solutions to that conundrum. One is Descartes': that such a being has always and will always "exist", and the other is: that it never has "existed" and never will do so!
  • It does not seem to me to be ABSURD to say that: 'the perfect being that could necessarily "exist" in point of fact does not do so.' It may seem somewhat surprising, given that many things that don't necessarily exist do so - but this is to call upon the Argument from Contingency as corroboration and underpinning for the Ontological Argument.
  • In any case, it seems to me that one cannot have a clear notion - episteme - of the FORM of God; this is (I would say) forever beyond our direct intellectual knowledge; and the kind of argument you are putting forward seems to me to rely on such episteme.
It is amusing for a convinced theist (me) to be put in the position of arguing against "the existence" of God with you - an existentialist agnostic.

Regards,

                 Stephen AKA Pharsea

Stephen,

              I am very pleased to have received such positive feedback. I had to write this because it was consuming my thoughts. I was also craving some input on this topic. Thank you for taking the time to read it and reply. And you may certainly quote it for your WebPage.I have a few things to say about your response. 

  • You said that you like to limit existence to "things." Is that the same as saying that only physical objects have existence? In that case, God, angels, and human souls do not have existence but have being. I do not understand the difference. When Descartes asserts that God must necessarily exist, is that not the same as claiming that God must necessarily be/have being?
  • You are correct that because we can conceive of "necessary being" does not mean that we are not making a mistake in our conception. However, is this not extreme scepticism? Would it then be sceptically justified to claim that we may be under a delusion when we conceive of the necessary essence of a triangle? Nevertheless, I do admit that there may be a contradiction in the term "necessary being."
  • You state that it is not true that "anything that is capable of existing by its own power does exist." That statement also presents a problem to me, but I cannot figure out what the problem is.
  • It is definitely not absurd to say that a "perfect being that could necessarily exist does not exist." But the absurdity comes when one says "a perfect being that must necessarily exist does not exist."
I still find myself confused over the ontological argument.

- Andrew

Dear Andrew,

                      I tend to use the word "existence" to mean "exist as a physical body".

This is not appropriate to God. God simply "is", but doesn't exist - God isn't at all "like any thing". God doesn't "exist within a context" [stand-out as an embossed pattern from a shield] because God doesn't have any environment. Heaven is "the state of being in fellowship with God" not "the place where God is".

Descartes doesn't make this distinction between "existence" and "being" in the way that I do; though it is pretty clear that he thinks that the mode of God's "existence" is very different from that of any physical body/object/thing. I guess he didn't make the distinction that I do simply because he wasn't a physicist and because "scattering theory" hadn't been concocted by then, any-how!

It is unclear to me whether souls and angels "exist" or simply "are". Neoplatonists concocted the idea of "subtle matter" of which "spiritual things" were constructed. I am an agnostic on this question, but it was what the infamous: "How many angels can dance on a the point of a pin?" dispute was all about.

The form of a triangle is purely abstract. It is not possible to doubt it; it is no more (or less!) than what it is defined to be. No sceptic can deny this! All that a sceptic can deny is that the abstract form has any bearing on physical reality or any existence outside the human mind. I don't do either of these, of course. I'm not that much of a sceptic. Physicists find triangles exceedingly useful for dividing up and mapping out space!

I agree with the rest of what you say.

I agree that the statement: "necessary being is not" is totally absurd. I agree that according to the normal rules of logic this absurdity would inevitably result in the infallible conclusion: "it is not true that there is no necessary being" and so, on simplification, "there is necessary being" which is equivalent to "God is".

I think that the reason that the first statement is absurd is because: "there exists a mind that is conceiving it." If there was no mind capable of holding this thought then there would be no argument and nothing would exist and there would be no necessary being. Hence this - the most abstract presentation of the Ontological Argument I have ever encountered - is revealed to be the same as the "Argument from Contingency". It is precisely because there are thinking creatures - namely you and I - that one can (by the unaided light of human reason) come to the definitive conclusion that: "God is". I think this is the root power of the ontological argument.

I think this is brilliant!

Stephen AKA Pharsea

Various Propositions and their negations

Absurd statements about objects

Necessarily true statements about objects

Commentary

No object that has being is real There is a real object that has being .
There is an object that has being which is not real Any object that has being is real .
Whatever object has being is not real Whatever has being is real .
At least one object that is has no reality All objects that are have reality .
If there is some object then it has no reality If there is some object then it has reality Axiom I
Any object that must necessarily be real is not real Every object that must necessarily be real is real. But is there, in fact, any such object? Could there even be one?

Absurd statements about being

Necessarily true statements about being

Are these valid when they are not resolved in terms of objects?
Being has no reality Being has reality .
Being is not real Being is real .
Being is not Being is This is trivial!

Absurd statements about qualified being

Necessarily true statements about qualified being

.
Green being has reality Green being has no reality Green is not a distinct immutable form. 
Green is a subjective construct.
Contingent being has no reality Contingent being has reality Contingency is the most fundamental property of all objects. 
As soon as the absurd statement is made it is absurd; 
simply because some real thing must be stating it!
If there is "necessary being", then it has no reality If there is "necessary being", then it has reality A particular application of Axiom I, 
taking "necessary being" as an pseudo object 
- which is not obviously legitimate
If there is "green being", then it has no reality If there is "green being", then it has reality But green being has no reality, 
hence: 'there is  "green being"' is false.
It is impossible for necessary being to have reality Necessary being may have reality If necessary being did have reality, it would necessarily have it!

Disputable statements about qualified being

Disputable statements about qualified being

.
Triangular being [Triangularity] has no reality - Aristotle Triangular being [Triangularity] has reality - Plato
  1. Are the Forms real? 
  2. If they are, is "Triangularly" is a distinct immutable form?
That being which must necessarily be real is not real. That being which must necessarily be real is real
  1. Does this mean anything?
  2. If it does mean anything, how does it escape the response "but is there such being?"

Absurd statements about God

Necessarily true statements about God

.
God is not real God is real .
God exists God does not exist God has no context
God is a thing God is no thing God belongs in no category
 

The Argument from Design revisited.

Given that I exist, I must of necessity do so in a Cosmos that is suitable for my existence: hence it inevitably follows that I must observe that the Cosmos is suitable for me. Moreover, it would seem possible that if the Laws of Physics were different, then although I would not exist, some other life form based on a different chemistry (or other non-linear complexity) might be asking questions like "why is the Cosmos just right for me?" in my place. However, I shall shortly argue that that if any of the Laws of Physics were to be changed, even slightly, then no life of any kind could have come into being. If this is true, it is quite remarkable, that the Cosmos is suitable for me is in such a baroque manner as seems to be the case. My friend, Prof. Paul Miller puts the case as follows:
Although the specifics of carbon chemistry ..... may not be necessary for life .... a living being must contain organized complexity, or information. The minimum requirements for information content can be determined by fundamental mathematical theory, and it is clear that it requires .... a local decrease in entropy. Entropy is .... the disorder in a system, and for a closed system .... entropy always increases ..... cups fall and shatter, they do not coalesce and jump back onto their saucers. More importantly, without sustenance and breath, bodies die and decay, while corpses do not come back to life. A living being with the ability to ask the question "why am I here?" must contain an incredible amount of order to be able to frame such a deep, information filled thought, whatever kind of chemistry or physics underlies the being. So the question is, "what kinds of universe could allow such order to arise?" If the answer is "just about any" then we should not be so surprised about our universe - the right, well suited type of order would arise to fit the environment in any universe. However, if the answer is "almost none," then we do need to question why the universe is so special.
Of course, if there are an infinite number of Universes, with different Laws of Physics: then there is nothing to explain. No matter how weird it is that a Universe is life friendly, those few that are so will give rise to life; and whenever that life achieves self-consciousness it will start writing articles like this one. This is the "MultiVerse" hypothesis. Of course, one avoids invoking an infinite and impassible "God" as an explanation for the World, at the cost of invoking an infinite set of Worlds. Arguably, these together constitute "God" under another name. It is possible to make the argument somewhat more palatable, as Dr Miller describes:
Many cosmologists are attempting to find what explanation they can within science, in preference to invoking a Creator .... the ripples left on the cosmic background radiation .... provide strong evidence for a period of .....   exponential expansion .... in the first 10-33 seconds of the universe's existence. If such an era existed, there is no reason that the universe we observe is all that condensed .... There could be a plethora of .... sub-universes, that are completely unobservable to us ..... it is not so surprising that one of a multitude of sub-universes happens to have the right conditions for life.
As someone deeply suspicious of "probability", I cannot resist pointing out that this argument is all about how "unlikely" it is that the Cosmos should be how it is. Given that the Cosmos is what it is, we know the exact probability (in one sense of the word) that it is so. It is unity! Only if one legitimately conceives of a set of "equally likely" alternatives (as far as I am aware this necessarily invokes a symmetry property of some, in this case unfathomable, system) can one start to ask questions such as: "What proportion of all possible Universes are compatible with life?" String theory is typically put forward as the "unfathomable system". This unsubstantiated metaphysical theory has the property that it is compatible with a very large number of different types of space-time with a vary large variety of physical properties, Hence, if every variant is taken to have the same "basic probability" and to have somehow occurred, then "it is not so surprising that one of a multitude of sub-universes happens to have the right conditions for life." However, I should stress again that what one is doing here is explaining away the finitely surprising particular in terms of a (near?) infinity of unsurprising particulars.

Prof Miller continues:

It is well known that all life on Earth (barring the strange sulphurous life arising around deep-sea volcanic vents) is ultimately dependent on the inflowing energy from the sun. The sun is an average star, and, like all stars, can provide the power for life, by providing vast amounts of energy (as heat and light) at very low entropy (from a small region much hotter than the rest of the universe). Hot spots, such as stars, are necessary to allow any form of organized complexity to arise. Living things must all take in low entropy (hot or organized) energy and release it at high entropy (useless waste heat) in order to increase or at least maintain their internal information. The "hot spots" which allow any living being to survive, must also be there for it to evolve, so must remain stable over a large period of time, compared to typical physical processes in the life cycle of the being. Now, in our universe there is a specific resonance in the nuclear reaction process, which enables stars to burn at all, and endure for the billions of years that have been necessary for life to develop. In a universe almost the same as ours, but perhaps with a slightly different electron mass, the resonance would not occur, stars would not shine, and the universe would be dark, dead and dull.

There is a multitude of similarly finely tuned properties of our universe .... The delicate balance between the original expansion of the universe and the gravitational attraction, which tends to pull everything back together, ensures that the explosive debris from one star can arrive in the vicinity of another star which forms separately. All life on Earth is made from atoms of debris from the first star, and relies on heat and light from the second star, namely our sun. In a gravitationally stronger universe, the first star would swallow the second, while in a .... more spread out universe, the debris would never reach another star.

This is quite telling. Darwinianism can't help here. Even if the Laws of the Universe could change, it is difficult to see how the idea of "survival of the fittest" could apply here. Of course, it may just be that the Cosmos is a self-consistent solution. This idea I call "The Vorlon Hypothesis" (apologies to Babylon V.)  The idea is that the Cosmos was created (or the Laws of Physics at least massaged) by gods that evolve within the Cosmos and then "time travel" back to the beginning of time to ensure that the Cosmos starts off just right. Prof. Miller expresses a related idea, more prosaically:
A similarly untestable possibility put forth by scientific sceptics is that the universe is really infinite in time, and just bounces in and out of big crunches and big bangs. There is supposedly a new set of laws of physics each time round (though, this is rather implausible in my view, as the new mashed up fundamental laws must always lead to another bouncing universe, without being specifically tuned!).
This is a sequential version of the "MultiVerse" hypothesis.

In contradiction with any form of the MultiVerse hypothesis, it is the hope of many physicists that only one consistent set of Laws of Physics is possible. Finding this unique set together with the principle that gives rise to it would complete Einstein's programme of reducing dynamics and gravity to generalized geometry or the principle of continuity: "No Action at a Distance", known to the Ancient Greeks. It would require extending the treatment somehow to all the forces of Physics  with the aim of   unifying General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

If, in addition, these Laws featured no arbitrary parameters, then everything would be explained (except for the fundamental question: "why is anything?") It would be astounding (though not "improbable"), if  the only possible set of laws and fundamental constants is exactly the one that gives rise to life in such a delicately balanced and baroque manner! This would mean that logic itself indirectly and obscurely necessitates life! Of course, the prologues of Genesis and John's Gospel could be taken as suggesting exactly this doctrine.

The Weak Anthropic Principle

This states the obvious fact that because we are here, conditions must be right for our existence. Those aspects of Cosmic Order that appear tuned to allow for our specific kind of life provide no reason to go beyond this proposition. Perhaps if these were different, then another kind of life would arise: values of the fundamental constants incompatible with the formation of carbon based macro-molecules would only rule out our form of life, not all life in general.

The Strong Anthropic Principle

This is the proposal that because the Cosmos is special, in that almost any alternative would not give rise to stable "hot spots" (stars) that are absolutely necessary to provide the flux of energy on which life can feed and in which its order can persist, it requires further explanation. The suggestion is that the universe was carefully engineered to produce life. As Prof. Miller says:
While scientific sceptics deny the strong anthropic principle, many theologians and religious scientists embrace it, as it points to a Creator who stimulates life and enables us to flourish. The uncovering of such a fertile universe, which is so clearly conducive to beauty, encourages process theologians, as it appears that the universe follows a very thin line between rigid order and incoherent chaos. Other religious thinkers remain wary of the whole argument, and following the "contrast" viewpoint, are loathe to incorporate any scientific evidence, which may be later reinterpreted, in their vision of God. As the "many universe" theories are not completely outside the realms of falsifiable evidence, it is perhaps right to be patient before hailing the fine-tuning as proof of God. Nevertheless, I for one do not cease to be amazed by the transcendent beauty inherent within the laws of nature. These will always speak to me of the Nature of God.

God is Beauty, Praise Him!

Personally, I am on the side of the "other religious thinkers" referred to by Prof. Miller. I am suspicious of any version of the argument from Design, and find the Thomistic argument from Contingency much more satisfactory and less problematic.

Appendix I: A critique of the Cosmological Argument

The metaphysical Cosmological Argument (or argument from contingency) starts with the premises that:
  1. There are particular things and events.
  2. Any event in the history of a thing happens at a certain time.
  3. All events are in need of explanation.
The first attempt at such an explanation for some event is to refer it to previous events. Unfortunately, this kind of explanation cannot be satisfactory, for two reasons.
  1. Such explanations always involve a reference to general laws as well as to particular things, persons, and events. Now the general laws are themselves facts, with no trace of self evidence or necessity about them.
  2. Earlier events require explanation, just as much as the event which they supposedly explain. No extension of this kind of explanation to remoter and remoter epochs can remove this defect.
The Cosmological Argument seeks to establish, from the above considerations, that:
  1. There is a Cause which is neither a part of nature nor the Cosmos as a collective whole,
  2. The existence of this extra cosmic Cause must be necessary. It is an uncaused cause.
  3. This Cause brings all Cosmic events into being via a metaphysical dependence different from the physical dependence of a later state of affairs on an earlier.
While it is true that:
  1. No explanation in terms of ordinary causation is capable of giving the kind of intellectual satisfaction about natural things and persons and events which is obtainable about purely mathematical facts.
  2. If the universe is such that this kind of understanding is theoretically obtainable about nature, then its structure must be very much as philosophic Theism says that it is.
The Cosmological Argument can be criticized as follows.
  • It may be divided into two parts, negative and positive.
  • At the transition from the negative to the positive part, it is arguable that there is a suppressed premise.
  • This suppressed premise is false.
  • Therefore the argument fails.
  • Moreover, the conclusion is not only unproven but is either false or meaningless.
This counter argument can be developed as follows [C. D. Broad: "Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research" (Routledge & Keagan Paul, 1953)]. What kind of explanations completely satisfy the human intellect? Only those when the proposition is seen to follow by necessary steps from premises which are all seen to be necessary. This kind of intellectual satisfaction is only reached in pure mathematics. Whereas the laws of Physics can be used to accurately project from immediate experience to what is remote in time, distance or scale length: they do not and can not explain things in the way that a proof in pure mathematics does. Complete intellectual satisfaction could be obtained about the causes of events if and only if the following conditions were fulfilled:
  • There is at least one necessary existential proposition: the "Uncaused Cause".
  • All other true existential propositions then follow necessarily: "Absolute Determinism".
  • The Cosmological Argument can be portrayed as claiming to establish that the universe has this structure. In order to do so it must add a categorical premise to the undisputed fact that the laws of Physics can not serve this purpose. This categorical premise is:
  • The Cosmos is such that mathematical intellectual satisfaction concerning events is possible.
  • Is there any reason to accept this suppressed premise? Plainly, it is not the kind of premise for which there could be any empirical evidence. Nor is it self-evident. Rather, it would seem that absolute certainty only arises in the context of the formal relations between abstract entities, such as numbers or propositions. It is altogether foreign to the context of either the existence or non formal properties of particulars.

    Moreover, it seems there can be no necessary existential proposition of the kind envisaged in the first premise. Such propositions always concern the connection (or disconnection) of other propositions. They are always conditional, taking the form: 'If P is true, then Q is true'.  It follows that the conclusion of the Cosmological Argument is not only unproven but also false.

    Even if this objection be waived, an equally formidable one remains. The difficulty is as follows. Anything whose existence was a necessary consequence of its nature would be a timeless existent. Now nature is composed of things and persons and processes which begin at certain dates, last for so long, and then cease. How could a temporal fact, such as the fact that there began to be a person having the characteristics of Julius Caesar at a certain date, follow logically from facts all of which are non-temporal? The necessary consequences of facts which are necessary are themselves necessary, and the necessary consequences of facts which have no reference to any particular time can themselves have no reference to any particular time.

    An Answer to this Critique.

    This critique fails for a number of reasons.
    1. It falsely portrays the Cosmological Argument as concerning mathematical certainty.
    2. It thereby treats the Cosmological Argument as a disguised form of the Ontological Argument.
    3. It misunderstands the role of Physical Law.
    4. It confuses a cause with a proposition.
    5. It confuses determinism and causality.
    There is no need to pursue the chimera of absolute certainty. The issue is rather the mystery of contingency. The question "Why" always arises: just as much in regards to the existence and form of Physical Law as to the occurrence of particular events. Whether or not the Laws of Physics are eventually demonstrated to be necessary, in the sense that if there are any such then they must be the very ones that they are: the question "Why are they at all?" will still arise. In the last analysis, this is a question about being and not-being, not about any particular being.

    Nevertheless, the Cosmological Argument is more an abstraction from Physics and Epistemology, rather than a deduction within Ontology. It reflects on human experience of what it is to know, rather than working from supposed a priori truths concerning being in itself. To treat it in terms of a formal axiomatic structure is to mistake its import.

    The Cosmological Argument is not about positively "completely satisfying the intellect", but rather concerns itself with highlighting the defect in all contingent being. It asserts that this deficit must be supplied: or else one admits that in once case "Why?" is not a legitimate question. It continues that this can only be done by hypothesizing some non-contingent being: Being unlike any being to be encountered within the Cosmos: being that is entirely beyond our experience and is almost entirely beyond our comprehension.

    The Theist should not contend that the Act of Creation was necessary, in the sense that Dr. Broad implies that he must. Though the uncaused cause be necessary, the Cosmos is not created of necessity. It is not necessary for the truth of the Cosmological Argument that it be so! Neither should it be maintained that every detail of the Cosmos is pre-determined by the Divine Act of creation, as Dr. Broad insinuates it must be. The prime deficit in contingent being is the contingency of the Laws of Physics, rather than that of events in themselves. It is this contingency that the hypothesis of the uncaused cause primarily addresses.

    On the one hand, it may prove possible to package-up the contingency of events altogether in the initial- and
    boundary conditions of the Big-Bang, which may in turn transpire to be inevitable: if anything is to be at all. On the other hand, it may turn out that a radical contingency characterizes all epochs of the Cosmos. Although all events are caused: in the sense that they obey the Laws of Physics and that "one thing leads to another", it may be that some, and perhaps many, event sequences converge backwards to singularities in space-time. In which case, the reason why one such sequence arises rather than another must be looked for either in its future rather than its past: and it be admitted that causality runs backwards as well as forwards in time, or outside time altogether: that is either to God or some Conscious Agent.

    God is Silent

    by Richard Carrier

    [With an interpolated reply by Pharsea - Stephen Lovatt]

    If God wants something from me, he would tell me.

    All that God "wants from you" is your fulfilment - which will require you to be in fellowship with God.
    He wouldn't leave someone else to do this, as if an infinite being were short on time.
    Indeed. Moreover he couldn't "leave this to someone else". Only God knows the mind of God.
    Still, God might use intermediaries, for any number of reasons; some are pretty obvious, and others might exist that are beyond our understanding.
    It is impetuous and conceited to lay down the law as to what God has to do or must do.
    We simply do not see things from God's perspective.
    And he would certainly not leave fallible, sinful humans to deliver an endless plethora of confused and contradictory messages. God would deliver the message himself, directly, to each and every one of us, and with such clarity as the most brilliant being in the universe could accomplish. We would all hear him out and shout "Eureka!" So obvious and well demonstrated would his message be. It would be spoken to each of us in exactly those terms we would understand. And we would all agree on what that message was. Even if we rejected it, we would all at least admit to each other, "Yes, that's what this God fellow told me."
    I beg to disagree. This would subvert the basic intention of God.
    God's fundamental intention for us is to "educate us into being His friends" and "seduce us into being His lovers", not to "instruct or train us into being His servants".
    On the other hand, I believe that for those with the right outlook (and who are at the right point on their spiritual journey) the fact of God's being is sufficiently obvious to produce such an exclamation of "eureka!"
    Excuses don't fly. The Christian proposes that a supremely powerful being exists who wants us to set things right, and therefore doesn't want us to get things even more wrong. This is an intelligible hypothesis, which predicts there should be no more confusion about which religion or doctrine is true than there is about the fundamentals of medicine, engineering, physics, chemistry, or even meteorology.
    No it doesn't. You are adding a gloss of your own and it is this gloss that allows you to make the prediction which you then - correctly - say is inconsistent with experience. However, all that you have done is falsify your own gloss; which, while being a worthwhile thing to do, is not what you are claiming to have done!
    • God is not "a supremely powerful being". God is rather "Being-In-Itself". I don't think that this error affects your argument, though.
    • God does not want "to set things right" as this would imply that things were not already "set right" and this would implicitly contradict the first statement.
    • You later rely on this idea to implicitly justify comparing the God-Man relationship with that between a physician and their patient.
    • I agree that God "doesn't want us to get things [even more] wrong."  However, this is subordinate to the fundamental intention that God has; namely to educate us into being His friends and seduce us into being His lovers. If these two intentions come into conflict, then it is the second - which is absolutely prior to the former - that prevails. The reason being that whatever mess we make of things, God can - and will - eventually put it right.
    • The gloss that you are adding silently is something along the lines of 

    •     "What matters is the possession of information or knowledge, not the process by which that information or knowledge comes to be possessed."
      This is pretty obviously false. It is one thing to be able to parrot a set of facts because one has been told them - by an instructor. It is quite another to understand something because one has figured it out for oneself - perhaps with help and guidance from a good teacher.
    • Human beings have been busy figuring out mathematics and physics - and all the other sciences and technologies that derive from them - for themselves over a thousand years or more. Even so, there is a great deal of confusion as to the fundamentals of physics, in fact - but I don't think that this error affects your argument.
    • Similarly, we have been engaged in a process of philosophical and theological discovery over the same period of time. The only real difference being that - I and other believers hold - God has specifically gotten involved in this process, for exactly the kind of reasons that you have already implied, namely because God is concerned for our well-being.
    It should be indisputably clear what God wants us to do, and what he doesn't want us to do.
    • It is! What God wants is for us to discover what we can be and then to become that.
    • First and foremost this requires us to be anything - that is to continue to exist.
    • Second it requires us to understand what beauty and justice are; so that we can come to desire and relentlessly pursue these goods and so be fulfilled and happy.
    • God has no need of any goods or benefits from us - how could He, being God? God is entirely adequate to God and lacks no good!
    • All that God "wants" is our welfare. God's will for us is for us to do what is good for our welfare and to refrain from doing what is bad for our welfare. What could be easier than this to understand and fathom?
    • The only problem is determining in any circumstance and context what this might be, exactly. Of course, this is a big problem - but not something that any set of rules or laws could possibly address, except as understood as guidelines that often have to be broken.
    Any disputes that might still arise about that would be as easily and decisively resolved as any dispute between two doctors, chemists, or engineers as to the right course to follow in curing a patient, identifying a chemical, or designing a bridge.
    • In fact all human expertise is limited and often two experts will genuinely differ - with good cause - over the course of action to be taken in any circumstance. The contrast you are attempting to set up between technical matters and theological/ethical matters is pretty much unrealistic. However, this error doesn't affect your basic argument.
    • Moreover, in theological - and especially ethical matters - the state of affairs you describe would be a bad thing!
    • There is a more than sufficient tendency within a fallible Church [as a Catholic, I know this only too well!] to over-state the trustworthiness of human authorities. The effects that such over-statements have is to discourage
      • human imagination, questioning and inquiry; in favour of waiting for pronouncements
      • thinking for oneself[ in favour of repeating slogans
      • personal moral responsibility; in favour of "holy obedience"!
    • If there was some manifestly infallible oracle to consult [a supercharged papacy, if you like - God forbid!] this would result in every human being turning off their own judgement and conscience and simply obeying the decrees of that oracle.
    • It was precisely in order to avoid this pathological state of affairs [which directly contradicts God's prime intention for Man] that Jesus ceased to dwell in the physical world and instead established the Church - under the guidance and protection (rather than the imperious command) of Holy Spirit. - as His more gentle means of remaining indirectly engaged in human affairs.
    Yet this is not what we observe. Instead, we observe exactly the opposite: unresolvable disagreement and confusion. That is clearly a failed prediction. A failed prediction means a false theory. Therefore, Christianity is false.
    No. Only your gloss is false, but this fact should have been obvious from the start!
    Typically, Christians try to make excuses for God that protect our free will. Either the human will is more powerful than the will of God, and therefore can actually block his words from being heard despite all his best and mighty efforts, or God cares more about our free choice not to hear him than about saving our souls, and so God himself "chooses" to be silent.
    No. Our souls are "saved" precisely through our free-will. Without our autonomy we cannot become God's Friends.
    Of course, there is no independent evidence of either this remarkable human power to thwart God, or this peculiar desire in God, and so this is a completely "ad hoc" theory: something just "made up" out of thin air in order to rescue the actual theory that continually fails to fit the evidence.
    This is not an excuse. Human autonomy is the foundation of all God's dealings with Man! If you want to "disprove Christianity" you must take the theory as given; otherwise you are simply setting us a "straw man" and then shooting him down - which is rather pointless!
    But for reasons I'll explore later, such "added elements" are never worthy of belief unless independently confirmed: you have to know they are true. You can't just "claim" they are true. Truth is not invented. It can only be discovered. Otherwise, Christianity is just a hypothesis that has yet to find sufficient confirmation in actual evidence.
    • This is fine, as far as it goes, but that is not very far.
    • No believer can reasonably claim that Christianity is anything other than a "reasonable hypothesis" or "rational account" - a theory. It is no "more confirmed by evidence" than is "Darwinian Evolutionism" or "Copenhaganist Quantum Mechanics" or "Einsteinian General Relativity"! Read some [more] Popper if you doubt this!
    • Indeed (from the nature of the case), the evidence in favour of Judaeo-Christianity [or Catholicism, for that matter!] is more indirect, more experiential and less experimental than that in favour of the typical physics theory; but the way that modern physics is going this is becoming less and less true. Physics and metaphysics are rapidly merging into pure mathematics - just as any good Platonist - such as myself - would hope and predict!
    • In the end, all knowledge is based on faith and conviction. Even our acceptance of logic as the basis of this argument is a matter of faith. How can either of us establish that logic is valid when the very idea of validity requires the avidity of logic to have been already established!
    Be that as it may. Though "maybe, therefore probably" is not a logical way to arrive at any belief,
    Agreed!
    let's assume the Christian can somehow "prove" (with objective evidence everyone can agree is relevant and true) that we have this power or God has this desire. Even on that presumption, there are unsolvable problems with this "additional" hypothesis. Right from the start, it fails to explain why believers disagree.
    • First, because human beings suffer from conceit and don't like to have their favourite (but mistaken) ideas corrected.
    • Second, because different perspectives can give rise to different accounts which superficially seem to disagree while being, at a deeper level, compatible.
    • "Matrix Mechanics" and "Wave Mechanics" were originally proposed as two competing (and highly antagonistic!) accounts of Quantum Mechanics. Subsequently, it was shown that they were simply two alternative and equivalent viewpoints of the same thing.
    The fact that believers can't agree on the content of God's message or desires also refutes the theory that he wants us to be clear on these things. This failed prediction cannot be explained away by any appeal to free will. - for these people have chosen to hear God, and not only to hear him, but to accept Jesus Christ as the shepherd of their very soul. So no one can claim these people chose not to hear God. Therefore, either God is telling them different things, or there is no God. Even if there is a God, but he is deliberately sowing confusion, this contradicts what Christianity predicts to be God's desire, which entails Christianity is the wrong religion. Either way, Christianity is false.
    • No. As, I've already said, people are wilful. Even those of us who on one level want to understand the things of God are often frightened to give up on ideas which we honestly (but wrongly) think are good and wholesome, but which are in fact exactly the opposite.
    • In the end, this doesn't matter - because what God primarily wants of us is that we try to understand and that we struggle and fight with our own ignorance and imperfections. It is the process that is important. What matters is to be of "good will" or to "hunger and thirst for justice", not to be in possession of all the right answers!
    • Gods purpose is for us to be morally perfected - sanctified - through this struggle, with His help and encouragement; that is, by His grace.
    So this theory doesn't work. It fails to predict what we actually observe. But even considering atheists like me, this "ad hoc" excuse still fails to save Christianity from the evidence. When I doubted the Big Bang theory, I voiced the reasons for my doubts but continued to pursue the evidence, frequently speaking with several physicists who were "believers." Eventually, they presented all the logic and evidence in terms I understood, and I realized I was wrong: the Big Bang theory is well supported by the evidence and is at present the best explanation of all the facts by far.
    • The "rational account" that agrees most closely with the evidence available to us at present is indeed "The Inflationary Big Bang Theory"; but note the "at present". Increasingly, however, evidence is turning up which this theory does not satisfactorily account for and we still aren't clear about what caused the "inflation".
    • Your "by far" tends to suggest that the "degree of support" (how might one evaluate this?) implies some kind of "probability (or plausibility or reasonable expectation) that this theory will never be overturned." This pseudo deduction is profoundly unjustifiable.
    Did these physicists violate my free will? Certainly not. I chose to pursue the truth and hear them out. So, too, I and countless others have chosen to give God a fair hearing - if only he would speak. I would listen to him even now, at this very moment. Yet he remains silent. Therefore, it cannot be claimed that I am "choosing" not to hear him. And therefore, the fact that he still does not speak refutes the hypothesis. Nothing about free will can save the theory here.
    God speaks everywhere. On one level you are willing to hear His voice, that I gladly acknowledge; but on another you are not.
    You want to have the answer given in your own terms - but those terms are wrong and fundamentally exclude the very answer that you seek!
    Even when we might actually credit free will with resisting God's voice - like the occasional irrational atheist, or the stubbornly mistaken theist - the Christian theory is still not compatible with the premise that God would not or could not overcome this resistance.
    • It is not always proper (consistent with justice, from which flows God's first intention in His dealings with Man) for God to do everything that God could do, just considering God's might.
    • Might is not right!
    • God wants to persuade and seduce us, not coerce and spiritually rape us!
    Essential to the Christian hypothesis, as C.S. Lewis says, is the proposition that God is "quite definitely good" and "loves love and hates hatred." Unless these statements are literally meaningless, they entail that God would behave like anyone else who is "quite definitely good" and "loves love and hates hatred." And such people don't give up on someone until their resistance becomes intolerable - until then, they will readily violate someone's free will to save them, because they know darned well it is the right thing to do. God would do the same. He would not let the choice of a fallible, imperfect being thwart his own good will.
    That's where you are wrong. It is not good for someone to be spiritually raped - "for their own good".
    As to whether - in the fullness of time - God does manage to seduce and befriend every soul, I cannot say - I am not God. I hope so, but I cannot know so. It is possible (to the best of my ignorance) that some people get themselves so messed up that they are ultimately unsalvageable.
    I know this for a fact. Back in my days as a flight deck fire-fighter, when our ship's helicopter was on rescue missions, we had to stand around in our gear in case of a crash. There was usually very little to do, so we told stories. One I heard was about a rescue swimmer. She had to pull a family out of the water from a capsized boat, but by the time the chopper got there, it appeared everyone had drowned except the mother, who was for that reason shedding her life vest and trying to drown herself. The swimmer dove in to rescue her, but she kicked and screamed and yelled to let her die. She even gave the swimmer a whopping black eye. But the swimmer said to hell with that, I'm bringing you in! And she did, enduring her curses and blows all the way.

    Later, it turned out that one of the victim's children, her daughter, had survived. She had drifted pretty far from the wreck, but the rescue team pulled her out, and the woman who had beaten the crap out of her rescuer apologized and thanked her for saving her against her will. Everyone in my group agreed the rescue swimmer had done the right thing, and we all would have done the same - because that is what a loving, caring being does. It follows that if God is a loving being, he will do no less for us. In the real world, kind people don't act like some stubborn, pouting God who abandons the drowning simply because they don't want to be helped. They act like this rescue swimmer. They act like us.

    In analogous circumstances, God will certainly act analogously; but note all the struggling involved.
    However, this story only sounds good because of how it turned out. It is logically possible that the "rescuer" might have condemned the "rescuee" to a life of unmitigated loss and misery.
    So we can be certain God would make sure he told everyone, directly, what his message was. Everyone would then know what God had told them.
    He has done. Read the Bible, listen to the testimony of the Church!
    They can still reject it all they want, and God can leave them alone. But there would never be, in any possible Christian universe, any confusion or doubt as to what God's message was. And if we had questions, God himself would answer them - just like the Big Bang physicists who were so patient with me. Indeed, the very fact that God gave the same message and answers to everyone would be nearly insurmountable proof that Christianity was true. Provided we had no reason to suspect God of lying to all of us, Christianity would be as certain as the law of gravity or the colour of the sky. That is what the Christian hypothesis entails we should observe - for it is what a good and loving God would do, who wanted us all to set right what has gone wrong. And since this is not what we observe, but in fact the exact opposite, the evidence quite soundly refutes Christianity.
    And you clearly sketch out exactly the problem with this vision. It is manifestly incompatible with human autonomy; which you consistently ignore and write-off as of no value; simply because - I suspect - you haven't thought through the implications of the existence of such an Infallible Divine Oracle.
    Despite this conclusion, Christians still try to hold on to their faith with this nonsense about free will - but they haven't thought it through. Meteorologists can disagree about the weather forecast, but they all agree how weather is made and the conditions that are required for each kind of weather to arise. And they agree about this because the scientific evidence is so vast and secure that it resolves these questions, often decisively. It can't be claimed that God has violated the free will of meteorologists by providing them with all this evidence. And yet how much more important is salvation than the physics of weather! If God wants what Christianity says he wants, he would not violate our free will to educate us on the trivial and then refuse to do the same for the most important subject of all.
    And God doesn't! We have discovered all that we know of meteorology for ourselves - perhaps with some help from God, how would I know? - but certainly not with any violation of our autonomy! The situation is similar with theology and (what is of more practical importance) ethics. Theology and "religious belief" has the prime purpose of underpinning and motivating ethics - this was the amazing and innovative realization of the Hebrews,
    Likewise, if a doctor wants a patient to get well, he is not vague about how he must do this, but as clear as can be. He explains what is needed in terms the patient can understand. He even answers the patient's questions, and whenever asked will present all the evidence for and against the effectiveness of the treatment. He won't hold anything back and declare, "I'm not going to tell you, because that would violate your free will!" Nor would any patient accept such an excuse - to the contrary, he would respond, "But I choose to hear you," leaving the doctor no such excuse.
    • However, the situation we are in is not comparable to the physician patient relationship (where it is the business of the physician to actively cure the patient who is passive in the physician's care) but rather the teacher student relationship (which is predicated on a certain equality and on friendship), with the prospect in view of this developing into the lover beloved relationship.
    • The teacher's best tactic at all times is to ask questions and to challenge and to critique their student, not simply to drill and indoctrinate them. Even if the student demands "to be given the right answers to memorize for the exam" (as I have been!) it is entirely wrong for the true educator to do so. Indeed, the first thing that the student must learn - if they are ever to understand anything at all - is that they must not make such demands, or at least never expect them to be satisfied!
    • Your problem is that you haven't twigged how high is the vocation that you have received from God. You are assuming a lower vocation (one that seems more reasonable) then discovering that this doesn't fit in with the facts and finally (unreasonably) claiming that because this theory is wrong the very idea of Christianity (which you have never actually considered) is false.
    There can't be any excuse for God, either. There are always disagreements, and there are always people who don't follow what they are told or what they know to be true. But that doesn't matter. Chemists all agree on the fundamental facts of chemistry. Doctors all agree on the fundamental facts of medicine. Engineers all agree on the fundamental facts of engineering. So why can't all humans agree on the fundamental facts of salvation? There is no more reason that they should be confused or in the dark about this than that chemists, doctors, and engineers should be confused or in the dark.
    What would count as "the fundamental facts of salvation"? Have you ever tried to express what these might be. I accept that you have gone some way to having done so in this essay, and I have attempted to respond - suggesting where your vision might be extended and broadened, just as your (other) physicist friends helped you to gain some understanding of the "Big Bang Theory".
    Perhaps people do agree well enough about "the fundamental facts of salvation". Perhaps this is why you and I are able to have this argument.
    The logically inevitable fact is, if the Christian God existed, we would all hear from God himself the same message of salvation, and we would all hear, straight from God, all the same answers to all the same questions. The Chinese would have heard it. The Native Americans would have heard it. Everyone today, everywhere on Earth, would be hearing it, and their records would show everyone else in history had heard it, too. Sure, maybe some of us would still balk or reject that message. But we would still have the information. Because the only way to make an informed choice is to have the required information. So a God who wanted us to make an informed choice would give us all the information we needed, and not entrust fallible, sinful, contradictory agents to convey a confused mess of ambiguous, poorly supported claims. Therefore, the fact that God hasn't spoken to us directly, and hasn't given us all the same, clear message, and the same, clear answers, is enough to prove Christianity false.
    St Paul tells us that - in fact - this is exactly the case and Catholics believe that every soul - even that of a pagan - receives sufficient grace [help, guidance, encouragement and support] from God to be saved. Perhaps we should reverse your argument and evaluate what "the fundamental facts of salvation" are more in terms of what is in fact common knowledge rather than stating that because there isn't enough agreement the whole "God thing" is false. Perhaps some humility is called for here!
    Just look at what Christians are saying. They routinely claim that God is your father and best friend. Yet if that were true, we would observe all the same behaviours from God that we observe from our fathers and friends. But we don't observe this. Therefore, there is no God who is our father or our friend. The logic of this is truly unassailable, and no "free will" excuse can escape it. For my father and friends aren't violating my free will when they speak to me, help me, give me advice, and answer my questions.
    Agreed, but they are not God and are not infallible! Their answers and advice and help are not ultimately and absolutely authoritative and unquestionable - and you know that. Hence, you would subject them all to your own scrutiny and judgement - except in the case of an urgent emergency This is the huge difference!
    Therefore, God would not violate my free will if he did so. He must be able to do at least as much as they do, even if for some reason he couldn't do more.
    • It is wrong to argue from what it is right and proper for a human being to do to what it is right and proper for God to do.
    • God is not any-thing-like a human being! Every one of God's actions is necessarily indefinitely puissant and if not moderated and mediated forces the outcome.
    • This is why God always acts through intermediaries. When God Himself came into this world, as Jesus, He chose to do so in an obscure way and to teach in parables.
    • Even when He rose from the dead, He chose to reveal Himself informally and only to a select group (quite a few, actually, but still select) rather than appear in glory, stepping out of the "Holy of Holies" of the Jerusalem Temple!
    But God doesn't do anything at all. He doesn't talk to, teach, help, or comfort us, unlike my real father and my real friends. God doesn't tell us when we hold a mistaken belief that shall hurt us. But my father does, and my friends do. Therefore, no God exists who is even remotely like my father or my friends, or anyone at all who loves me. Therefore, Christianity is false.
    God does all these things, if you look in the right places. God has been a great comfort to me in my anguish. God has shown me that I was wrong about things and guides me into better ways of thinking. God simply doesn't do these things in the way that you think that He ought to!
    The conclusion is inescapable. If Christianity were true, then the Gospel would have been preached to each and every one of us directly, and correctly, by God - just as it supposedly was to the disciples who walked and talked and dined with God Himself, or to the Apostle Paul, who claimed to have had actual conversations with God, and to have heard the Gospel directly from God Himself. Was their free will violated? Of course not.
    Indeed, it wasn't. For them to accept that what Jesus said was authentic required a step of faith - which many other contemporary people didn't make. It was not utterly obvious that Jesus was the Messiah, else why did both the religious and secular authorities reject Him? Would you have been with Peter and Paul and Thomas in their professions of faith based on evidence; or with Caiaphas and Pontius Pilot in their rejection of Jesus' credentials?
    Nor would ours be. Thus, if Christianity were really true, there would be no dispute as to what the Gospel is. There would only be our free and informed choice to accept or reject it.
    Or various aspects of it - this is in fact the precise basis of "heresy" and the cause of divergence of theological opinion among sincere Christians.
    At the same time, all our sincere questions would be answered by God, kindly and clearly,
    As an Infallible Divine Oracle which would then utterly erase human autonomy. Rather like the vision that the Queen of the Elves foresaw for herself; and which motivated her to refused to take the Ring of Sauron, when Frodo offered it to her.
    and when we compared notes, we would find that the Voice of God gave consistent answers and messages to everyone all over the world, all the time. So if Christianity were true, there would be no point in "choosing" whether God exists anymore than there is a choice whether gravity exists or whether all those other people exist whom we love or hate or help or hurt. We would not face any choice to believe on insufficient and ambiguous evidence, but would know the facts, and face only the choice whether to love and accept the God that does exist.
    In fact there is a considerable uniformity about fundamental ethics from one culture to another. In the end: "Be excellent to one another" pretty much sums it all up!
    If we truly knew all the facts, there would be no basis for choice - unless we were to "chose" irrationally, which is no choice!
    The only basis upon which any kind of free choice can be made is a certain degree of ignorance!
    That this is not the reality, yet it would be the reality if Christianity were true, is proof positive that Christianity is false.
    No! Only that your "gloss" is false: namely that it is "the possession of information or knowledge that matters, and not at all the process by which it is to be obtained."

    Appendix III: Dialogue with an Existentialist

     
    It has been very clear that you are making the claim that justice, value, and other perceptions and ideas can only be rationalized with reference to eternal life,
    True.
     
    but what is not clear are your in-depth reasons for believing so. In my last response, I raised several questions with the hope of bringing to light your exact reasons and justifications for your belief, but you did not directly answer those questions.
     
    True.
     
    You briefly touched on what I wanted you to explain by presenting the "simple choice" one has to make, but before I delve into that I would like to reiterate some questions that I wrote in my last response. Why, as you claim, should a rational person come to see this belief of yours?
     
    Because it is, I suspect, the only way to support a rational account of value. If you have another one, please tell it to me.
     
    Does that not imply that a person who does not reach your belief is either irrational
     
    Yes, I think so; but which of us is fully rational?
     
    or not rational enough to match your subjective view? And why are you so confident that your view is the rational view?
     
    This is a good question. The answer will, I hope, become clear.
    It is one thing to say that your view is what works for you, but to claim that every single rational person should reach the same conclusion sounds a bit arrogant (or is it confidence?)
    Confidence, I hope! What, in any case, is the difference between "something works" [without qualification] and "something is true" [without qualification]?
    "When it is a question of what things are good, we no longer find anyone so heroic that he will venture to contend that whatever a community thinks useful, and conventionally establishes as such, really is useful (just so long as it is the established order) unless, of course, he means that it is simply called 'useful'; but that would be making a game of our argument, wouldn't it?"
    [Plato "Theaetetus" (177d)]
    Now I will address what you stated to be a simple choice. It is not a simple choice because once again you provided a false dilemma; there are more choices. As for the first choice you provided, you state that there are rational or coherent accounts of value and justice which directly requires the idea of eternal life.
     
    Indeed. This is, I think, a fair summary.
     
    But your reasons for believing so are very vague. The only reason you provide is "simply because this present world is basically futile and unfair and cruel."
     
    Indeed. This is, I think, a fair summary; but I had not sought to explain my thinking in this regard on this blog. I had referred you to what I have already written, but this didn't seem to help you very much. I am also engaged at present in developing these ideas in conjunction with another atheist MySpace friend, so it is a bit tiresome to have to type out the same arguments over and over again - but never mind! See the end of this blog.
     
    Well I must say that there is nothing simple about that. I am not even sure what you really mean by that. Why do you believe the fact that this world is cruel provides evidence for the idea of eternal life? You must elaborate on this for me to understand where you are coming from. Without an elaboration on this, your position is unsupported and one can make the case that you should not make such a large claim merely because "it seems to you" that a rational account of such concepts require an idea of eternal life.
     
    Absolutely!
     
    When I think of rational, I think of something that I can take and put into "deduction form," since a deduction with a valid form and valid premises will always provide a sound or rational argument.
     
    Largely. The only problem here is what counts as "valid premises", it seems to me.
    I tend to the (sceptical) view that very few premises - if any - can be taken as "absolutely certain" or "a priori" or "obviously true" or whatever; hence I tend to the view that rationality is about showing that a system of belief is self-consistent rather than about showing that it is "necessarily true". Once one has shown that a system is internally coherent one must then move on to consider [in a Popperian spirit] its utility, its predictive and/or explanatory power, its empirical falsifiability and the degree to which it motivates and suggests further possibilities - its metaphysical fruitfulness.


    So far, if I plug in your statements into a deduction I get this:

      1. Value and justice are concepts.
      2. A rational account can be given of these concepts.
      3. This present world is basically futile and unfair and cruel.
      4. Therefore, a rational account of these concepts directly require eternal life.
    That is a pretty good presentation of my argument, on a formal level; though I can see from how you put it that you haven't yet "twigged" the point of what I'm trying to say. I shall try to correct this at the end of this blog, but I want to do full justice to your text first.


    As you see, you did not provide me with enough information about your position for me to understand your rationale behind your claims. But overall, I still see no reason why a rational account cannot be given of the world without eternity, but I will elaborate on this later in my response.

    Fair comment. I shall consider what you have to write there.

    As for the second choice that you provided, you started off by using a straw man argument. Calling value and justice insignificant right off the bat completely denigrates the existentialist position. So let us change it to: The ideas of value and justice are significant (because they are important to humans), accidental constructs of evolution with a coherent significance and rational basis, and a subjective psychological expediency. I like that choice and will explain why in a minute.

    I also am happy with how you put this, because it directly exposes the irrational nature of existentialism. Note my emphasis of your words.

    You claim that the existentialist denies the only possible rational basis for that validity.

    Indeed, because the existentialist claims that value exists even though human life is mortal. I claim that this is a rationally insupportable proposition. It is a noble, even heroic, cry; but it is incoherent and irrational and desperate.

    That statement of yours answers one of my questions. I was wondering if you thought that your view was the only rational view, as opposed to being a more rational view than others.

    Indeed.

    So far, you have not demonstrated why your view is rational, but I am sure you will explain this in your next response.

    I shall try to, below.

    Before I provide my rational account of value, I would like to mention the importance of subjectivity here. You said that if I can provide a rational account of value without..., then your contention is clearly falsified. That is true but there is a catch. You first have to be convinced that my account is rational, which means that my rationale must meet your standards of reasoning, which is a tricky thing since we obviously hold very different views.

    Why do you say this? It seems to me that in fact we talk exactly the same language and work in an identifiably similar metaphysical and epistemological framework. We seem to understand each other very well and do not seem liable to "come to blows";.

    It seems to me only that I believe in "God's being" and in "Eternal Life" and that you (as yet) don't. I accept that these are important propositions - life changing propositions, in fact - but I don't think that if you came to accept them it would change a good deal of what you have already cleared up for yourself, philosophically. I think it would simply clarify your "view" not fundamentally change it.

    What is rational for one person may be considered irrational for another, hence the importance of subjectivity. I can provide my account and then you can claim that it is not rational and then a person may read our debate and think that my account is rational. So in your mind your contention is still true, while in another's it is false. I am positive that we can agree on this,

    Perhaps. There are two ways in which such a dispute about "rationality" might arise.

    In my experience the most common reason is that one party does not accept as "reasonable" some of the premises that the other party takes as "reasonable". For myself, I don't think that (most?) premises can be judged "a priori" in this way. I think one has to evaluate the systems that they give rise to and judge them "a posteriori" in terms of what they result in. As Jesus of Nazareth said about something entirely different: "By their fruits ye shall know them!" This whole process is necessarily "subjective", because the just criteria to be applied in any "evaluation" are never clear even to the person who is honestly attempting to apply them!

    The other basis of such a dispute is that one or both of the parties is/are in fact failing to be rational in their argumentation and failing to notice and/or acknowledge this fact. With good will and courtesy and patience this kind of dispute can always - in principal - be resolved, technically.

    therefore you should never claim that all rational people should reach your conclusion, because rationality is completely subjective.

    An interesting claim. In which case is "rationality" anything distinctive at all? What makes superstition or psychosis irrational if "rationality is completely subjective"? The mad-man will claim to be rational. His disordered and incoherent and self-contradictory account of reality seems to him, subjectively, to be reasonable. Is he justified in claiming to be "rational"? Are we justified in claiming that he is not "rational"?

    "When one who lacks skill in arguments puts his trust in an argument as being true, then shortly afterwards believes it to be false - as sometimes it is and sometimes it is not - and so with another argument and then another. You know how those in particular who spend their time studying contradiction in the end believe themselves to have become very wise and that they alone have understood that there is no soundness or reliability in any object or any argument; but that all that exists simply fluctuates up and down as if it were in the [violent straits of] Euripus and does not remain in the same place for any time at all!...
    We should not allow into our minds the conviction that argumentation has nothing sound about it; much rather we should believe that it is we who are not yet sound and that we must take courage and be eager to attain soundness...
    The uneducated, when they engage in argument about anything, give no thought to the truth about the subject of discussion, but are only eager that those present will accept the position they have set forth...
    Give but little thought to Socrates, but much more to the truth. If you think that what I say is true, agree with me; if not, oppose it with every argument and take care that in my eagerness I do not deceive myself and you." [Plato "Phaedo" (90b-91c)]
    It is irrational for you to claim that anyone who does not share your view is irrational while believing that you are rational. This is the problem when people believe in objectivity; once you are convinced that things are definitely one way, then everyone else in your mind is wrong, which is arrogant unless you can completely demonstrate why your position is indeed correct. But anyway, I will provide my account and you will be the judge.


    Of course, if one believes in reality and one believes that one has a half-decent account of it then one has to believe that any other seemingly contradictory account is liable to be wrong! If one doesn't believe in objective reality and the possibility of a proposition being either "true" or "false" what is the point of having a discussion about any idea or notion?

    If one has a modicum of humility, one always remains open to the two possibilities that:

    1. One's own half-decent account is less true than one had thought. One should never be absolutely and definitely "convinced that things are definitely one way". Such certainties are dangerous! In which case one must be willing to learn and make progress in understanding by admitting that one was wrong. The beginning of wisdom is the recognition of one's own ignorance!
    2. It may be possible to synthesize the two seemingly contradictory accounts into an even better account of reality.
    My rational account:

    Subjective beings (humans) have subjective perceptions. Justice and value are part of these perceptions.

    So are "justice" and "value" simply arbitrary? If not what constitutes their non arbitrariness?

    They are significant to humans because they help them establish a way to categorize the world and the people within the world.

    This, it seems to me, is an attempt to define "significance" in terms of other concepts.

    Is this "way" a true way or a false "way"? How would one decide?

    "Help"; with what purpose in view?

    As I asked before, how and why is human life significant, as far as you are concerned? We all die and the universe is set to "come to nothing". So why does anything matter at all? Everything is futile! How is this "fulfilling" in any reasonable sense of that word? How is it "fulfilling" to be the food of worms?

    If all that you mean by "significance" is that "I chose to say that it is significant" then WHY do you make such an "existentialist" choice? What motivates this choice? Is it rational?

    Is not your "existentialism" just an "emotional crutch"?

    Also, we cannot separate ourselves from it. Since morals, values, and justice are relative, they are also temporary.

    How do you know that "morals, values, and justice are relative"? This seems to be an unsubstantiated assertion. Moreover it isn't even clear what it means!

    What is relative to what?

    What is the alternative proposition that this one is intended to oppose and be antithetical to?

    Explaining these concepts through relativism is rational because it is natural and easily observable around the world.

    This is the first sentence you've written here that has no clear meaning.

    1. In what sense is it "rational" to "explain these concepts through relativism" because "it is natural" and because "it is easily observable"?
    2. How is it "natural" to do so?
    3. What do you mean here by "natural"?
    4. What is "easily observable"?
    How does this "easily observable" thing/fact make "explaining these concepts through relativism rational"?
    People have different views than each other because we naturally arrive at our own conclusions through our subjective experience. It is unsupported to think that there are eternal, concrete definitions of our perceptions that exist outside of us.
     
    What would an "eternal, concrete definition of our perceptions" be?
    1. Do you mean to say that "it is unsupported to think that there is an objective reality"?
    2. In which case, why not say so?
    3. In which case am I nothing more than a figment of your imagination?
    4. Or, failing that, is my view of any matter just as good/bad/valid/invalid/true/false as yours or any-one else's?
    5. Is everything just a matter of arbitrary opinion and personal whim or prejudice?
    6. In either case, why are you bothering with this dialogue?
    7. If not, then how can one avoid the concept to objective reality?
    8. Moreover, why would one desire to avoid the concept of objective reality?
    9. "If whatever the individual judges by means of perception is true for him; if no man can assess another's experience better than he, or can claim authority to examine another man's judgement and see if it be right or wrong; if, as we have repeatedly said, only the individual himself can judge of his own world, and what he judges is always true and correct: how could it ever be, my friend, that Protagoras was a wise man...? To examine and try to refute each other's appearances and judgements, when each person's are correct - this is surely an extremely tiresome piece of nonsense, if the Truth of Protagoras is true, and not merely an oracle speaking in jest...." [Plato "Theaetetus" (161d-162a)]
    Now the main question is, how on earth can the concept of justice be rational if not everyone agrees on the same view of justice? What makes that easy to answer is that rational is also a subjective view. We all believe, for the most part, that our own views are rational and justified. To me, it is completely rational to account for our perceptions as products of our subjectivity.
     
    Perceptions are necessarily subjective. However their subjective character does not account for their existing. For there be a perception two things are necessary.
    First a subject who perceives.
    Second an object which is perceived.
    Without their being an object there would be no cause of the perception. It would not be possible to give a rational account of the perception - it would be a phantasm!
    We call perceptions that are entirely "products of our own subjectivity" dreams or delusions.
     
    They are not eternal because they only exist through us;
     
    This conclusion "they are not eternal" would be true, if the premise "they only exist through us" had been established - but it hasn't been.
     
    we do not have to have an afterlife in order for our views to be significant while we are alive.
     
    What does the word "significant" mean here?
    This statement might be true or false, depending on what the various bits of it mean.
    It reads more like a political or religious slogan than like a syllogism.
     
    It appears that you are against a natural account of human nature because you believe in God.
     
    Not at all. I don't know what you mean by a "natural account of human nature", but it is exactly my straight-forward account of what "value" is that leads me to the necessity of "Eternal Life" and thence on to "God".
    Basically, I can rationally account for our concepts because they are natural and unavoidable.
    This doesn't mean anything, it seems to me.
    Perhaps you mean that "the idea of justice exists because it has certain evolutionary advantages". Now it seems to me pretty obvious that the human individual owes "evolution" or "the human race" - and most especially "the future of the human race" precisely and absolutely nothing. In which case, of course, as soon as one realizes that this is the entire basis of "justice" then one is immediately freed from its constraints and justified in adopting any other arbitrary morality or ethic that pleases one with no prospect of anyone else being able to tell one that: "one shouldn't do so, because it is wrong."
    In my view, you have done a very good job of showing how the "existentialist" view of value is fundamentally irrational. It leads to the idea that justice is arbitrary and a matter of whim and not a rational matter at all.
    Overall, I am completely lost regarding why you feel that there is only one way to rationally account for the world and it has to involve eternal life. I can make a better case here if I understood your position.

    That remains to be seen! Why do you need to know what I believe in order to convincingly represent your own view of the matter? Especially when in your preliminary analysis of the problem situation and what you have already understood of my position you were lucid and coherent!

    Why is not rational to believe that our concepts of justice and value are temporary?

    Such a belief could be rational; but it would mean that we wouldn't have to be bound by these concepts and it would in fact destroy them: so the proposition would come to be a proposition about concepts that no longer existed!

    I think my biggest problem is that it appears you believe in an objective reality. You hold so strong that your position is the only rational way, so everyone else must simply be wrong, in your mind. That is why Nietzsche said that "Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies."

    I do not "appear" to believe in an objective reality. I am an unashamed "Objective Realist!" All Platonists and Catholics are fundamentally committed to this metaphysic. To believe in objective reality is not the same as believing that one personally has a very good idea about the character of objective reality.

    I agree with the Nietzsche quote if by "convictions" he means those ideas that are held so strongly that their holders are incapable of questioning and criticizing them and take them as absolutely certain. It seems to me that atheists, "Subjective Relativists" and existentialists are just as (or more!) capable of having such ideas as theists, "Objective Realists" and Platonists!

    I admit that I am not too sharp when it comes to mathematics and physics, but I feel that I do not need to be to make the point I was making. You claim that "most" mathematicians and physicists believe that they are discovering that which already existed. This is an issue of semantics and I see a way to illustrate this.

    Let us say that we do not know how to mathematically explain Proposition A. Mathematicians are trying to explain it; they just do not know the way yet. Group A believes that the way to explain it already exists, they just need to find it. Group B believes that the way to explain it does not exist until they can perceive it. I am on the side of Group B. We did not know how many degrees were in a right angle until we created the system.

    Of course -; this is an arbitrary convention, not a mathematical result.

    Group A claims that a right angle existed for past eternity, while Group B claims that a right angle did not exist until we created a system called math. These days, mathematicians and physicists are trying to uncover new ways of explaining nature by using the systems that we created. Now in the Group B sense, the ways of explaining nature do not exist until we invent them, because obviously any explanation is based on our perception of the world, which did not always exist.

    No. An explanation is "based on" an abstract general theory, like "E=mc2" or "F=dp/dt" or "F=G.m1.m2/r122";. We never experience or perceive such a thing, we propose or conjecture it [according to Popper] or discover or remember it [according to Plato].

    What the explanation has to explain is "our perception of the world".

    In the Group A sense, the way to explain the universe has always existed, we just needed to find it. Obviously a tornado has always worked the same way; all we discovered was a way to explain it; that is the job of the scientist. But anyone who claims that mathematics is not an invention has some probing questions to answer.

    Ask away!

    So when you say that most mathematicians and physicians are on your side, you are leaving room for some who are not on your side; they are on the Group B side.

    Yes, of course! See below for further comment.

    Even though you claim that most agree with you (I am not sure what statistics you have in your possession to be able to claim that), claiming that the majority agrees with you is not a compelling case.

    I emphatically agree. As a Platonist, I have no time for majority opinions!

    This issue is a classic example of the differences of perception; no physics or mathematics degree is necessary to understand this.

    It is impossible to give a convincing rational account of why most mathematicians and theoretical physicists tend to a pretty Platonic view of their endeavours without calling on a good general appreciation of what higher mathematics and theoretical physics is all about.

    When I first discovered that the whole of electromagnetism could be written down, mathematically, as the two extremely simple equations:

    []2 A = j     and    [].A = 0

    I was taken aback at the fundamental simplicity and beauty of this mathematical account of what in practice is a very rich and complex area of physics. The idea that men had "created" such a simple account of such an apparently complicated set of phenomena was very far from my mind. The proposition that the simple reality had always been there: the d'Alembertian Equations calmly governing the Cosmos before any human being yet walked the Earth, seemed altogether much more sensible to me!

    You are definitely correct that self ordering processes work by the expense of an external influence and I was well aware of that when I made my statement. The truth is, we have no idea what or if anything exists outside of our universe which may be affecting it. Of course one may hear that and conclude that God must be the external force, but that is simply jumping the gun before we discover more about our universe. One day there may be a way to account for a naturally ordering universe.

    As soon as one admits the idea of an "outside of the Universe" one has admitted to the concept of God, because this is one perfectly adequate definition of what God is. As to the character of this "external force" - that is another matter entirely, of course!

    As for the world being ordered, there is always confusion in these kind of topics because of language. What exactly do we each interpret as order is important. You say that there is no scientific reason to believe in order of the universe, but then you say that there must be order for us to exist.

    Indeed, as I said, this is the "Anthropic Principle" given that we are here, the Universe in which we exist must be of a character that is compatible with us being here.

    Deducing that something must be a certain way due to an observable fact is definitely scientific.

    No. It is a matter of logic, not science; but I don't think this distinction here matters much!

    Is that not what scientists do all of the time?

    No.

      They propose new theories.
      Then they test these theories against the evidence,
      Then if these theories are not shown to be false in well controlled circumstances they apply them to other situations.
    So if we establish that the universe is ordered, the next question is to ask why. Science, of course, has not done so yet. I think everyone is in agreement that there are no scientific reasons to explain the inner workings of our universe.
    No! Mathematical physics is doing a very good job of "explaining the inner workings of our universe". I think that part of your problem is that you don't appreciate just how good a job mathematical physics does at giving reasons for most things and events and phenomena - and just how amazing and incredible this is.
    Physics just has nothing to say about why there is a universe to have any "inner workings" in the first place, or even why the universe with these "inner workings" has such a low level of entropy at present.
     
    Maybe one day there will be, maybe not.


    Indeed. Physicists hope that we will one day be able to go further. As a Catholic, I think that this final explanation will eventually have to refer - however obliquely - to God. Already, I think that it does so, implicitly.

    I think claiming that the universe is governed by mathematical laws is just another way to say that the universe is ordered and all we have to do is figure out a formula to explain it.

    Not quite. There are two entirely different meanings of "ordered".

    The first is "lawful", that is any and every particular thing or event can always be "accounted for" according to certain general principles or mathematical formulae.

    The second is "low entropy", that is the whole can be "accounted for" or "described" in a manner that is much briefer than a simple listing of all of the positions and movements of its constituent parts.

    I also think it is a mistake to make a huge, general statement that all science today is motivated by such a conviction. Not all scientists agree that mathematical laws are governing the universe.

    All mathematical physicists do, I assure you!

    That statement sort of implies that math existed before us,

    Quite. Once more, your clear perception of the reality of the situation has betrayed you!

    and that is exactly what I am, and other scientists, are against.

    Not all scientists (especially those that are not mathematical physicists) see the issue as clearly as you do. Most scientists (even mathematical physicists) are very bad at philosophizing. Experimentalists in particular are very much pragmatists.

    This is all a problem of language, which is very common in debates around the world. If people do not make clear what exactly we mean by our words, we will continue to have the same disagreements because of our language.

    It is not all a problem of language. The problem of poor use of language is real, but philosophy is not just a question of being careful with one's verbal expression.

    "People say again and again that philosophy doesn't really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say that don't understand why this has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions." - Ludwig Wittgenstein

    This I heartily disagree with. The reason that philosophy doesn't progress in the sense that is intimated here is two-fold.

    First, it keeps on shedding those areas of itself that become relatively mature and these are re-named as one science or another. Sometimes these areas are shed prematurely, and they become pseudo sciences like psychology and sociology.

    Second, it deals with those questions that are at once most crucial for human life and most remote from immediate experience, perception and observation. Hence its subject matter is the most contentious and the techniques it must use are the most speculative.

    Now for a brief explicit statement of my "theory of values":

    I start from the idea that all ethics and value originates in "the self" and the concern for "self preservation". In other words "true selfishness is the fundamental virtue". See:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pharseas.world/teleology.html

    and Chapter 6 of my book: "New Skins for Old Wine"

    "The Virtue of Selfishness"
    I then say that basic ethical idea this can be traced to a deeper metaphysical idea; namely that "good" and "being" are two different words for the same reality; they are synonyms. The first is the word that is used in ethical statements and the second in metaphysical ones. I tend to summarize this fundamental premise by the statements:
    "It is valuable to be" and/or "Being is Good"
    My motivation here is to reduce/identify all of ethics to/with metaphysics: to give a rational account of ethics and value simply in terms of being/existence without the appeal to any other supposed reality. I hope that this sounds a bit like "existentialism" here.
    For a living being to be itself it has to live; so for a living being "life" is tantamount to "good", for if a living being ceases to live it is no exists-as-itself but only persists as its dead corpse.

    There is only one problem with life. This is the only fact about life which stops it being of "value in itself", just as an existentialist might (understandably) like/want/desire it to be. This fact is mortality. If there was no death then I think that life (and human life in particular) would be a perfectly good moral absolute in itself. See:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pharseas.world/Life.html

    and Chapter 3 of my book : "New Skins for Old Wine"

    "The problem with life is death."
    After all, God's only "purpose" is supposedly "to be God". If that's supposed to be good enough for God, why couldn't the same be good enough for Man [I hope that I sound a bit like an "existentialist" here!] - ah! but there's death: there's the rub! Death doesn't apply to God, who is "The Living One"!
    Hence, the "flaw" in the argument:
    • being = good = value
    • life = being
    • life = good = value
    is that our life is MORTAL and this means that to pursue its continuance as a motive or value is futile. Only if this futility can somehow be removed from life (which is what "Eternal Life" is all about) can life itself become the fundamental value that it should be. There is more to be said about ethics, of course. For now I will simply point you to:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pharseas.world/WhyBeGood.html

    and Chapter 8 of my book: "New Skins for Old Wine"

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