The Linguistic and Logical Improprieties of the Theistic Proofs

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Confessor, Dec 7, 2008.

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  1. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    This is part of what I wrote for an assignment from my Philosophy class:

    The Linguistic and Logical Improprieties of the Theistic Proofs

    If I were to tell my friend that I owned a “gobiant,” he would reasonably ask what exactly a gobiant is. If I did not have an answer, he would have a good reason to deny that I own a gobiant, because my positive assertion that I do would be nonsensical. Prior to my proving to him that I own such a thing, I would have to establish a definition of what I own, so that proof of my ownership of the gobiant would actually be coherent. It makes no sense to speak of owning something prior to establishing what exactly that “something” is. In like fashion, the traditional arguments for the existence of God attempt to prove that God exists prior to establishing a distinctly Christian conception of God (or any other conception, for that matter). But this is a huge flaw. The Christian God, according to orthodox denominations of Christianity, is a deity who has sovereignly revealed Himself through the Bible. Therefore, if it were true that He existed, then it would follow that the entirety of the Bible must be true, and vice versa. But the very, very most that traditional arguments can possibly yield is that something supernatural might exist – far less that this being is a deity as typically conceived, that he cares about the world, that he has any infinite characteristics, and that he has revealed himself to the world. The arguments therefore are misnomers and entirely misleading. They cannot prove God’s existence and therefore they should not be called theistic proofs.

    Aquinas embarrassingly confirms this linguistic mistake: after attempting to prove an unmoved mover, he says, “And this is what everybody understands by God” (p.7); after attempting to prove a first cause, he says, “to which everyone gives the name God” (p.8); and after attempting to prove a causal perfection or goal-director, he says, “And this we call God” (p.8). He takes for granted that God is those things, but God is only those things if the Bible is assumed to be true! He has not proven God in the least; he has only proven an unmoved mover, a first cause, a necessary being, a causal perfection, and a goal-director, none of which even cumulatively can constitute God. For instance, one does not even need to assign a sentient being to the descriptors of “unmoved mover” and “first cause,” causal perfection can be merely conceptual and not a real existence, and a goal director could be a magic rabbit (or something else equally absurd). What is certain from Aquinas’s arguments is that the Christian God is not proven; he still has an extremely long way to go, demonstrating that the entire revelation claimed by Christians is true. (In their defense, evidentialist Christian apologists go from theistic proofs to evidence for Christ’s resurrection to the veracity of the Bible, but I still have severe disputations with their methodology.)

    There is a much more terrible problem with the cosmological argument: it is entirely question-begging. This is best demonstrated by formulating the argument “backwards” as a disproof of a supernatural first cause: (1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence, except the universe itself; (2) the universe began to exist; (3) therefore, the universe did not have a cause for its existence. Of course, the first premise introduces an obviously false premise – it is not established that the universe itself did not have to be caused into existence by the fact of its beginning to exist. But with this, we can see the question-begging premise in a theistic cosmological argument: it is not established that the universe itself must have been caused into existence by the fact of its beginning to exist. The reason that this premise is entirely unwarranted is because of the nature of causality and what we can induce through our perception: all causes and effects have taken place in time, and therefore it is acceptable for us to induce conclusions from these perceived causes and effects, as long as the inductions are pertaining to causality within time. The universe’s cause is emphatically “before” time began: time did not yet exist. How, then, can anyone possibly make a definite claim about causality in the absence of time itself? The truth is that one cannot, and consequently inasmuch as Aquinas or any other philosopher attempts to prove a supernatural first cause from the existence of causality in a temporal framework, he or she necessarily begs the question.

    Paley’s teleological argument suffers from a logical fallacy as well. He argues that just as a watch points to an obvious watchmaker, so also a well-designed or fine-tuned universe points to a divine Designer. But he equivocates here on “design.” The reason we can know that a watch is designed is because of precedent – we know that previous watches had to be constructed by watchmakers, and therefore a new watch we discovered was likely made by a watchmaker too. We have received trustworthy knowledge that a watch must be designed; hence when we see a watch we know that it is actually and not just apparently designed. But this type of design does not translate to a cosmic level, for two reasons: (1) there is no definite precedent of universe creation (indeed if there were we would already have proven what we were attempting to do!), and (2) there is no discernible way to differentiate between apparent design and actual design. The former is obvious. The latter is significant because actual designer rather than apparent design is the crux of Paley’s argument. If he has no grounds upon which he can definitively state that the universe is actually designed, then his argument fails. The required grounds cannot exist unless there is a way to demonstrate that the universe was actually designed, but the only way to do that (which we know of) is by precedent, an impossible task. Paley’s argument, like all the traditional theistic proofs, is stuck in the mud.
  2. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Lets assume that the "cause" was God speaking the world, or universe, into existence. Secondly, lets propose that it is possible to measure time, or prove its existence, not just by physical change, but any change.

    Now, if the "cause" of the universe was God's "speaking" or willing it into existence, God must have entered "time" before the speaking took place. At the moment He "chose" to speak He entered into "time" by means of having a "change" in His thoughts. That is, God didn't arbitrarily say, "let there be light," there must have been, for a lack of a better term, an entering into a thought of contemplation that he was "going to speak" the world into existence (this "thought" differentiated from, to borrow William Craig's word, His singular intuition that existed in a state of timelessness). Upon this thought of "contemplation" there was a change and time began.

    Conclusion, time existed before the efficient cause of the universe.
  3. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Well, yeah, if you assume that action requires time -- which is of course based on observable and therefore uninformed premises -- then time had to exist during the universe's beginning. But you have to beg the question to say that action requires time, placing God on a creaturely level.

    Even if you were right about this, however, it is still the case that we would not know how causality works at that point. Time could exist in a different sense, for all we know. We have only observed causality within the universe, and we therefore cannot make any decently correct statements regarding causality of the universe.
  4. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

  5. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    In your defense, you didn't say that it did, but I still inferred that from "Secondly, lets propose that it is possible to measure time, or prove its existence, not just by physical change, but any change." If any change measures time, then the two are inexorably linked such that one cannot exist without the other, and therefore action requires time.

    The fact is, though, even if it doesn't mean that "action requires time," you still have given no reason why I must accept that proposition -- only what I must accept if I were to accept that proposition.

    I'm not assuming that "time is somehow not time." I am simply remaining silent about what I do not know, the nature of time outside our own observable space-time universe. It is not the case that I am assuming that time is different outside the universe; I am merely rejecting the assumption that time is the same outside the universe, limiting my inductive premise to what is observable. That is required for induction.

    Well, how could this (if it's what you're trying to establish) lay the groundwork for causality "before" the universe began?

    For the record, I agree that causality and time is ultimately founded in God's mind. I deny, however, that we can go from causality and time as entities in themselves (i.e. outside a Christian framework) to "prove" God.

    :lol: Will do. :)
  6. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Well noted!
  7. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Because, according to my idea, time began to exist before the universe began, or more precisely, before the efficient "cause" of the universe. Therefore, the universe's cause happened within time and is therefore subject to the laws of cause and effect.

    -----Added 12/8/2008 at 09:51:10 EST-----

    Okay, I suppose what I am getting at is that "requires time," at least to me, denotes that time must or may be existent prior to any action (and I don't think this is the case). Action at least causally or logically "precedes" time (in a non-temporal manner), despite that time and action would occur simultaneously.

    -----Added 12/8/2008 at 10:01:07 EST-----

    Wouldn't our own mental processes, which are after the image of God, serve as observable data? I guess I just don't follow why time may be so different, at least in the realm of causality, just because "matter" didn't exist yet.
  8. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Why ought I accept this idea? Naturalists usually posit that the Big Bang was the beginning of time as we know it. Prior, there was a singularity.

    What I meant by "action requires time" is that they would have to occur simultaneously.

    Oh yeah, if we're going off of Christian presuppositions (e.g. our minds are in the image of God), then the cosmological argument is absolutely sound. Without them (which is what I'm trying to prove), they cannot prove God in the least.

    It's not the fact that time is necessarily different in a singularity; it's the fact that we don't know if it is the same in a singularity. Therefore, we cannot make definitive statements about causality and try to construct an argument for God being the uncaused cause.
  9. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Could a person make and accept or reject traditional arguments without first having ever seen or heard of a Bible?

  10. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    They might be able to posit a first cause or some plan of design apart from the Bible, but not the traditional arguments as generally conceived.
  11. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    I am not asking if the traditional arguments work or not, but only if the traditional arguments include some premise that a regular person could not evaluate and accept or reject without first having seen a Bible.

    If so, where/what are those premises.

  12. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Going back to the cosmological argument, a possible solution for the need of empirical evidence may be the existence of virtual particles, which are "are scientific examples of particles caused by an atemporal cause, viz., the laws of quantum mechanics."
  13. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Thomas believed that some knowledge of God is available to us through reason, and that other knowledge of God is available only through revelation. I've seen these critiques of Aquinas before. In fact, your argument is the exact same argument Gordon Clark and John Robbins used, with "snark" instead of "gobiant." In my opinion, they and you misunderstand Aquinas' intention in that first book of the Summa. His goal in the argument for a first mover is simply to argue for the existence of a first mover. The more precise definition of the first mover comes with more reasoning, and ultimately with revelation, since Thomas believed that the doctrine of the Trinity could not be proved by reason, but was dependent upon revelation. He uses the term deus, as it were, as a placeholder. Therefore these arguments from Clark, Robbins, do not deal adequately with Thomas because they lift about three sentences from three thousand pages and import a foreign intention into them.
  14. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    That is correct to a certain extent because Thomas held that the theology included in sacred doctrine differs in kind to the theology which is part of philosophy. But this only shows that his "God" which is proved by reason is not the same kind of "God" which is revealed in the Bible. Hence I think that systemic critiques of Aquinas have merit to them. Aquinas' arguments only work on the assumption that they are moving towards the acceptance of divine revelation; this means that the system of Christian truth is a pre-requisite to the proper understanding of his causal argument. This becomes apparent when the leap is made from the ordinary cause-effect relationship to the extraordinary cause-effect relationshio which exists between God and the world. The biblical doctrine of creation is necessary in order to prove the point.
  15. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Yeah, of course they could. Hence the "natural" part of "natural theology." Of course, I doubt they could reach any sort of reliable conclusions from these arguments due to additional unanswered questions: e.g. "Is the first cause natural or supernatural?"

    The premises would probably be such things as "the world appears designed," "everything perceived has a cause", etc.

    -----Added 12/9/2008 at 12:43:17 EST-----

    What exactly are you trying to prove with this? This would seem to negate the concept of theistic creation even further.

    -----Added 12/9/2008 at 12:47:23 EST-----

    Haha, this is awesome! I honestly did not know that such a critique existed.

    Still, Aquinas's arguments don't take a single step towards God. The first cause is essentially a blank entity, which could even be non-supernatural. If that is what Aquinas was attempting to prove, then he did not make it clear how to connect that and accepting the truthfulness of the Bible.

    Of course, if he says that we should accept the Bible because of its inherently divine nature, then he's a presuppositionalist, and his five arguments actually have meaning.
  16. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    Here is a summary of a former converstaion I had with someone. What if we reworded your assertion above, positively, as follows:

    1) Everything that begins to exist has either necessary and/or sufficient conditions for its existence

    2) the universe began to exist

    3) therefore, the universe has necessary and/or sufficient conditions for its existence.

    We cannot say that the universe does not have necessary or sufficient conditons for its existence, for then it would follow that it also doesn't have necessary or sufficent conditions for its evolution. The reverse of 3), that the universe does NOT have necessary and/or sufficent conditions for its existence, is contrary to scientific observations.

    If the universe, therefore, has necessary and/or sufficient conditions for its existence, then the universe has causal conditions - or conditions that causally precede its existence - that is, it has a cause.
  17. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    The point of that syllogism was to make an obviously question-begging cosmological argument for the nonexistence of God, in order to show that the traditional argument is equally question-begging.

    No, this does not follow. Why couldn't the universe be self-caused? What exactly do you know of the nature of singularities which would necessitate that it have a cause outside itself?

    By the way, if you claim to have studied singularities at all, I'm not going to believe you. :cool:
  18. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    We can get into what can in fact be proven by natural theology, but the first step is to just justify that there is no question begging in not starting with the premise that "the Bible is the Word of God". Either the argument works or it does not, but question begging is not a real objection.

    All Aquinas is appealing to when he talks about "what everyone knows as God" is General Revelation. His attempt is to show that people are treating General Revelation wrongly when they infer something opposed to x. Therefore he can make a claim even to people who have never seen the Bible. They may object but so what, the issue is whether the objections can be answered, not whether they can be made.

    Next, it is not the point of Natural Theology to demonstrate that Jesus was dead three days instead of four and all other sorts of facts that we believe the Bible tells us.

    I think the third paragraph of your opening post is the one with the biggest problems but I think I need to make sure that we are on the same page before we get there.

  19. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Well, using natural theology as any sort of theistic evidences would absolutely be question-begging. They can't even establish that the cause or designer was supernatural, much less a deity.

    I'm not sure I follow you here. Are you saying that he is attempting to show that non-Christian conclusions based on natural revelation are wrong?

    I understand that. But natural theology takes us absolutely nowhere near an establishment of Christianity, either.
  20. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I don't see how presuppositionalism escapes your charge. Whether you argue like Thomas toward a first mover that is undefined, or simply assume the truth of "scripture," you are at the same point. You still have to ask what the thing is, and supplement that with more information and argumentation.
  21. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    I would define my methodology and carry it out. Aquinas (or at least, other people who use these arguments) is misleading people into thinking that God is proven, but He is not. Aquinas is necessarily using a false definition, since he either must add to it in the future or not prove God completely in the present. In both situations, he is not proving God's existence in the least.
  22. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    What kind of objection are you using here: Some sort of induction/abduction - I have not seen an answer to objections that I have, so those objections cannot be answered?

    Also it assumes that materalism cannot be shown to be false without special revelation. (Because if materialism is false then supernaturalism is all you have left - depending on how broadly you construe "nature') That is an enormous claim to justify.

    Show me that if I have never seen the Bible, I am required to accept materialism as true.

    I think that such is at least part of his project. I think another part is the attempt to show that "right reason" and Christianity are not at war.

    If natural theology could eliminate any semi-coherent alternative to Christianity, would you consider it to have been useful?


    -----Added 12/9/2008 at 05:56:53 EST-----

    Let us say that Aquinas "proves" that God is eternal. That is somehow false because God is more than just eternal?

  23. Hilasmos

    Hilasmos Puritan Board Freshman

    1') premise: If the evolving universe began to exist at event1, then there are no external causal conditions to its existence.

    2') premise: the evolving universe began to exist.

    3') therefore, the evolving universe is a brute fact.

    We can then extend this argument as follows:

    4') premise: If the evolving universe began to evolve at event1, then it does so brute factly or according to external causal conditions.

    5') the evolving universe began to evolve at event1 (from 1')

    6') therefore, the evolving universe evolves brute factly. (from 1', 4', 5')

    7') premise: the evolving universe does not evolve brute factly.

    8') thus, 6' is false.

    9') thus, 4' is false.

    10') thus, 1' is false.

    11') ergo, the evolving universe either did not begin to exist at event1 or there are external conditions to its existence.

    (7') is based on scientific observations that strongly suggest that this premise is true.

    -----Added 12/9/2008 at 07:27:46 EST-----

    If we say the universe is self-caused, then causal conditions that currently exist are not conditions for an event to happen since an event did happen without any conditions present (namely the universe began). That is, it's beginning would be a brute fact. But, in that case, every event follows as a brute fact. Since there are causal conditions that appear to require the universe to evolve in a certain manner (e.g., the laws of physics), it is apparent that we do not in fact live in this kind of universe.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2008
  24. Vytautas

    Vytautas Puritan Board Freshman

    How come you did not write about the ontological argument? Is it not traditional?
  25. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    It's based on the finiteness of the human mind. We are existing within this universe. Therefore we cannot make inductive premises pertaining to causal relationships outside our universe. That would be a severe categorical error.

    How does it assume this? I am not saying one must be a materialist without a Bible; I would only say that one would have to be a non-Christian without the Bible, which is nearly truistic and of course biblical (Rom. 10:14).

    He is not showing either. An uncaused cause need not be anything resembling the Christian God (unless an authoritative revelation were to say otherwise :cool:), and of course I would argue that he's not using "right reason" insofar as he's not presupposing God's existence, so he can't demonstrate that in the first place.

    Hypothetically, if that were the case, yes.

    If he were to do that, then the end of his conclusion should be that he has proved an eternal being, not God. This is the linguistic impropriety I was talking about.

    -----Added 12/9/2008 at 09:47:56 EST-----

    Are you saying that if the universe were self-caused, every event within the universe would have to be self-caused as well? If so, how does that follow? If not, please explain.

    -----Added 12/9/2008 at 09:49:24 EST-----

    The professor asked that we write about 800-900 words, and I was already over 1000.

    I do think the ontological argument is ridiculous though.
  26. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    I have no objection to the finiteness of the human mind, but I do think that it will be difficult to show that any knowledge that I have is due to induction. I am not an empiricist and my last name is not Hume.

    Let us go back to your actual statement:
    You said it could not be established that the designer or cause was supernatural. That would seem to imply that without the Bible one has to be a materialist of some sort to believe that nature/material is all there is. If you wish to recant or correct what you said here, then you can do so and then we can move along. If you don't wish to recant, then you have some defending to do.

    Actually all you are doing here is making assertions. You seem to assume that an uncaused being has no implications for worldview etc. and that it can be made to fit any possible worldview. Why do you make such assumptions.

    Good, so we now have the stage set for some debate on what natural theology can/could tell us.

    There would only be a problem if one says that one can only know that an eternal being exists. At the very least some worldviews have been ruled out of bounds right out of the gate.

  27. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    The premise "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is informed by induction.

    One would still only be a materialist if he were to presuppose materialism as his starting point. I am merely saying that one cannot positively prove that the cause was supernatural. This would only necessitate materialism if one were to use the typical autonomous mindset. Materialism is by no means the "default" position in the case that the supernatural has not been proven "on top" of that. In fact, this is related to a central tenet of presuppositionalism.

    The only thing his argument proves is that there is an uncaused cause. His argument tells nothing of the nature of this cause, and consequently it is not specific towards any one worldview. I am not making an assumption; I am merely being honest about what Aquinas is proving here.

    I deny that he can prove an eternal being from his premises. You assumed that he could prove it when you asked the question, so I answered what would be the case in the hypothetical scenario that it was possible. I deny that natural theology could tell us that much.
  28. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Nope, we should know it because the opposite entails a contradiction. It could be written in this fashion "something that begins to exist has no cause" or stated another way "nothing/non being caused something".

    Causation presupposes being and intelligibility presupposes cause.

    If you dont quite see it, then answer what you mean by nothing when you saying nothing caused X to happen.

    Why do you have to positively prove anything. If you can rule all other alternatives out, that is enough, right? To rule out the ability to rule things out is only to assume that materialism et. al is correct from the beginning.

    So your saying in his 3k page book (not including other works) he only argues that God is an uncaused cause? So he does not argue for the dependency of creation etc.

    Either you are not familiar with Aquinas or you are attempting to fault him for not having arguing for everything at once. Or put into other words, faulting him for not being infinite.

    But remember we had not currently gone into what his argument does or does not prove. We were simply going into what are the problems or successes if he accomplished what he wished to accomplish. In that context, your objection had no teeth.

  29. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    According to the general scientific consensus, prior to the Big Bang there was a singularity. Thus, when I say that the universe began to exist, I don't mean that nothing existed previously, only that universe "as we know it" began to exist.

    But that wouldn't be ruling all other alternatives out. Proving that the first cause need not be supernatural does not necessitate that nothing supernatural exists, and therefore materialism is not a necessary belief by any means.

    No, I'm saying that in that argument he is only arguing for that. He never reaches the actual definition of God without presupposing that the Bible is authoritative.

    ...or for pretending to be arguing for more than he is.

    You stated, "Let us say that Aquinas 'proves' that God is eternal. That is somehow false because God is more than just eternal?"

    My answer: If he were to argue that an eternal being existed, and he called it God (rather than "an eternal being), then his argument would be false. It would not be false that an eternal being existed in that situation, however.
  30. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Just to be fair, general scientific consensus can be coherent or incoherent. Just because it is the consensus does not mean very much.

    Next, if we agree that the universe began to exist, then we can start asking what began it, or what caused it (and what characteristics that causer/creator has)

    My point here, is that there are no objections to ruling all alternatives out and then sticking with what is left. There is no need for positive vs. negative proof. There is just need for proof and justification.

    His point, is to see what he can argue and prove using just General Revelation. The question we have before us, is how far can he go.

    He is not pretending anything. The issue is simply appealing to what people know by SD and Natural Revelation.

    Why would it be false? Is something else eternal besides God? Is something else infinite besides God? If not, then when one refers to eternal, one is referring to God, right?

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