From the archives: Plantinga’s ontological argument, take three

Plantinga’s ontological argument is an annoying argument in that it relies heavily on jargon that’s unintelligible to the average person, including using “possible” in a somewhat unintuitive way. As a result, even though I think it’s a terrible argument, someone without training in the relevant philosophy is likely to make wrong guesses about what’s wrong with it. Thus, I present an attempted explanation of the problems with the argument that I wrote in December of last year:

Rather than respond directly to comments on my previous post,I’m rewriting it, taking the issue “from the top” so to speak. The last four paragraphs are what I’d most like people to read and comment on, but the earlier parts are changed quite a bit too by adding a discussion of William Lane Craig.

I’ll begin with what William Lane Craig says about Plantinga’s argument in the third edition of his book Reasonable Faith (just because I’m writing this with a view towards including it in the book, which will have a whole chapter on Craig):

Now in his version of the argument, Plantinga conceives of God as a being which is “maximally excellent” in every possible world. Plantinga takes maximal excellence to entail such excellent-making properties as omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. A being which has maximal excellence in every possible world would have what Plantinga calls “maximal greatness”…1) It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2) If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3) If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4) If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
5) If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
6) Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

In my view, the jargon Plantinga uses in this argument is needlessly confusing. Instead of talking about “maximal excellence” and “maximal greatness,” he could just define God as “an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, necessarily existent being.” Similarly, there’s no need to invoke possible world talk, we can state the argument talking just about possibility and necessity (where “necessary” just means “couldn’t possibly be otherwise”). That condenses the argument to:

1) It is possible that God exists. (Craig’s premise 1)
2) If it is possible that God exists, then it is necessary that God exists. (Craig’s premise 3)
3) If it is necessary that God exists, God exists. (Craig’s premise 4)
4) Therefore, God exists.

Working backwards: (3) is obvious once you know what “necessary” means. If God couldn’t possibly have not existed, then of course God exists. Premise (2) is supposed to come from a combination of two things: the definition of God as a being who exists necessarily, and the S5 axioms of modal logic.

Some people are going to object about simply defining God as a necessary being. However, among atheist philosophers, the attitude generally seems to be, “Oh, theists can define ‘God’ however they want. For example, if they want to define ‘God’ as ‘the greatest possible being,’ they can do that.”

Now, after granting theists their definition of God as a starting point, some atheist philosophers, Michael Martin for example, might argue that the concept of a greatest possible being is incoherent, or incompatible with other things commonly believed of God, but the point of that sort of attack isn’t to show that it’s wrong to define God that way, it’s to show that if we define God that way, then God can’t possibly exist.

In fact, in the philosophy world it seems to be generally regarded as OK to just announce that you’re going to use some word to mean such-and-such. As long as it isn’t needlessly confusing, and you don’t equivocate between two different meanings of a word, you can define words however you want. So I think most philosophers are going to give Plantinga the OK on the first piece of support for premise two.

Now the other piece: in a system of formal logic, axioms are things you’re allowed to just assume when working within the system. So for example, when I was in graduate school, the homework problems for my formal logic class generally involved proving some theorem or other. If we were working within a particular system of logic, we were allowed to have a step in our proofs be writing down an axiom with a note indicating “this is an axiom.”

The S5 axioms for modal logic–the logic of possibility and necessity–have the important consequence that if something is possibly necessarily true is necessarily true. This, when combined with the definition of God as necessarily existing, is where the otherwise bizarre-looking premise (2) of my restatement of Plantinga’s argument comes from. Philosophers have disagreed on which axioms are the right axioms to use when doing modal logic. And I don’t know of any decisive argument to show that the S5 axioms are the right axioms.

However, my understanding is that most philosophers nowadays accept the S5 axioms, and Plantinga’s key claim seems plausible enough to me. To say that what’s possibly necessarily true is necessarily true is to say that it makes no sense to think the following: “well, this could be false, but it could also be such that it couldn’t possibly be false.” And I don’t see how that makes any sense, if we’re talking about genuine possibility (what Plantinga calls “broadly logical possibility”) rather than possibility-for-all-I-know (often called “epistemic possibility,” from the Greek word for knowledge).

At this point, Plantinga’s argument may look pretty good. He’s got the first two key claims, and of course it’s at least possible that God exists, right? Not so fast. Once you accept the S5 axioms, it becomes completely crazy to think you can just assume things are possible. Or at least, it becomes completely crazy to assume things are possibly necessary. This is because S5 allows for Plantinga-style arguments for any purported necessary truth. The fact that the argument involves God isn’t actually an important feature of the argument.

So for example, philosophers generally claim that mathematical truths are, if true, necessarily true. Two plus two not only equals four, it could not possibly equal anything other than four. Because of this, if you accept S5 and also are willing to just assume a given mathematical claim is possibly true, you can “prove” that mathematical claim through a Plantinga-style argument.

For example: the Goldbach conjecture is an oft-cited example of a mathematical claim that nobody has been able to prove or disprove. If you accept the S5 axioms, and also assume that the Goldbach conjecture is possibly true, you can reason like this: “Possibly the Goldbach conjecture is true. But it is if true, necessarily true. So possibly the Goldbach conjecture is necessarily true. Therefore, by S5, the Goldbach conjecture is true!” Obviously, it is absurd to think you can prove the Goldbach conjecture that way.

It’s important to be clear on where the absurdity comes from. It does not come from the S5 axioms alone, nor does it come solely from assuming that the Goldbach conjecture is possibly true. Rather, it comes from the combination of those two things. S5 and taking possible necessities for granted are two things that do not go well together. My inclination is to accept S5, but reject assuming such possibilities. (Note that you could claim that while it’s not okay to assume mathematical claims are possible, but is okay to assume God is possible. But why would you think that?)

It’s also important to emphasize the distinction between genuine (“broadly logical”) possibility and (“epistemic”) possibility-for-all-we-know. I suspect that’s where part of the appeal of just assuming possibilities comes from. The Goldbach conjecture might be true for all we know, but it might be false for all we know. In that sense, both are possibilities. But, according to the conventional wisdom about mathematics, if the Goldbach conjecture turns out to be true, there was never a genuine possibility of it being false. There was only “possibility for all we knew.”

Craig does not deal with the Goldbach Conjecture objection, but he does deal with the objection that you might use a Plantinga-style argument to prove the existence of “a necessarily existent lion.” In response, Craig argues that “does not seem even remotely incoherent,” which means we should think it is possible that God exists. In contrast:

The idea of something like a necessarily existent lion also seems incoherent. For as a necessary being, such a beast would have to exist in every possible world we can conceive. But any animal which could exist in a possible world in which the universe is composed wholly of a singularity of infinite spacetime curvature, density, and temperature just is not a lion.

But it makes just as much sense to argue that we can conceive of a world containing only physical objects is not a world with a god in it, therefore it is possible that God does not exist. This, incidentally, entails that if God is defined as existing necessarily, we have just proved that God does not exist. Incidentally, this makes me think that theists ought not define God as existing necessarily, because it makes the existence of God too easy to attack.

To see that this is a problem with the ontological argument, though, you do not have to agree with the argument that God is possibly nonexistent, and therefore nonexistent. You need only think we have no more business assuming a possibly necessarily existent God than we do assuming a possibly necessarily existent lion.

Now unlike Craig, Plantinga is not so crazy as to claim that his argument actually proves the existence of God, or to insist people must grant his assumption that God is possible. Instead, he says, of ontological arguments:

They cannot, perhaps, be said to prove or establish their conclusion. But since it is rational to accept their central premiss, they do show that it is rational to accept that conclusion.

But again, by analogy with mathematics, we can see that this is a silly way to argue.

Imagine two mathematicians, Alice and Bob, arguing over whether it’s reasonable to believe the Goldbach conjecture. Alice argues that the Goldbach conjecture is unproven, and we should not believe unproven mathematical claims. Bob concedes that it is unproven, but says the Goldbach conjecture seems true to him, and it’s reasonable for him to believe it on that basis.

Now, you may agree with Alice here, or you may agree with Bob, but imagine Bob tried to strengthen his position by saying, “Well, surely you agree that it’s at least reasonable for me to believe that the Goldbach conjecture is possibly true. But if I believe the Goldbach conjecture is possibly true, S5 allows me to infer that it is true. So it’s reasonable for me to believe the Goldbach conjecture.” This is a silly argument. Even if you think Bob is reasonable to believe the Goldbach conjecture, this can’t be the reason why.

Once again, we need to be very clear on what the problem is. The problem is not necessarily that it is unreasonable to think that the Goldbach conjecture is possibly true. Maybe Bob is right about that. The problem, instead, is that Bob cannot expect Alice to agree. Given that Alice thinks it is unreasonable to accept the Goldbach conjecture, she probably will not think it is reasonable to believe the Goldbach conjecture is possibly true, especially if she accepts the S5 modal axioms. Bob’s argument is, if not quite circular, an example of an argument that would be bad even if it were deductively sound.

So, not only does Plantinga’s argument fail to prove the existence of God, it fails even in Plantinga’s stated goal of showing that belief in God is reasonable. Nor, I think is it especially insightful in any other way. Plantinga did not invent the S5 axioms, he was not the first person to suggest they are the right modal axioms, and I do not think he provided any decisive argument for them (I don’t think such a decisive argument exists.)

The argument could work as a clever illustration of the S5 axioms–the sort of thing a professor might mention to his student while explaining modal logic, or that might end up on a whiteboard of a grad student lounge as a joke. But it does nothing whatsoever to establish the intellectual respectability of theism.

  • KG

    I take basically the same approach, I think, but perhaps because I was introduced to possible worlds talk (through Bradley and Schwartz Possible Worlds) as a first-year graduate (although fyi my doctorate isn’t in philosophy), I do find it useful. I’m inclined to say that what’s wrong is that Plantinga starts out by using “possibly” epistemically (“We don’t know God doesn’t exist”), then illegitimately switches the meaning (“God exists in some consistently describable world”) to allow him to use the S5 axioms. There is, incidentally, a spatial interpretation of S5, in which constants refer to regions, “possibly” means “in some region” or “somewhere”, and “necessarily” means “in all regions” or “everywhere”. I used to work on qualitative spatial reasoning with Brandon Bennett, who devised it. So under this interpretation, God being a necessary being just means God is omnipresent (if he exists, he is everywhere), and the first premise asserts that God exists somewhere.

    • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

      Interesting, after pondering this (obviously wrong*) argument carefully as a layperson, my reaction was also that he seemed to be doing some weird shenanigans with how he distributes “possible worlds” — so it seems I was close! It seemed like he was talking about the nonsensical idea of a set of possible worlds existing in a possible world, so to speak, only concealing it with his language.

      * The argument is obviously wrong because, as Chris points out with the Goldbach conjecture, and as Craig more or less points out (but then rejects for no reason whatsoever) with the lion thingy, this logic can be used to prove anything. It is difficult to show what is wrong with this argument, but it is trivial to show that it is wrong, via reductio ad absurdum.

  • Braavos

    I don’t really know anything more about S5 than that it exists (ha), but is this reply to Plantinga possibly (ha) available to atheists?

    1) It is possible that God does not exist.
    2) If it is possible that God does not exist, then it is necessary that God does not exist.
    3) If it is necessary that God does not exist, God does not exist.
    4) Therefore, God does not exist.

    • Patrick

      That reply works. The only answer a theist could give is to claim that it is not possible that God does not exist. And if they insist on that in the premise stage, it gives away their fraud.

  • SAWells

    Plantinga’s premise 1 —
    ” If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.”
    — is already bullshit. Incoherent.

    A maximally great being exists in either all worlds or none. The existence of a single possible world in which _no_ entity is maximally _excellent_ means that no maximally _great_ being can possibly exist. Since clearly there is a possible world with no maximally excellent entities in it***, no maximally great being exists, and there is no PlantinGod.

    ***If you think I’m asserting my conclusion… so is Plantinga.

  • mnb0

    Stupid question (and I’m not ashamed of it): what exactly is the S5 axiom?

    • http://liberalrationalism.blogspot.com/ Tony Lloyd

      Hi mbno

      The S5 axiom is that if something is possibly necessary then it is necessary. If you think of it in terms of something that is necessarily possible then it becomes a little more intuitive: if something is possible in all possible worlds (i.e. necessarily possible) then it must be possible in the actual world: which means that it is possible.

      I’ve been thinking about this modal ontological argument aswell (self promotion: http://bit.ly/xU0uXy) The “solution” I have come up with is that it is a mistake to include modalities within possible worlds. Possible worlds contain actualities (ok, possible actualities, but not modalities; that’s the point).

      It’s a bit difficult to work into the Goldbach Conjecture example, which mixes in rationality of belief. But pretend that in the example Alice said that the Goldbach Conjecture was false and, thus, necessarily false and Bob said that it was true and, thus, necessarily true. Alice’s claim translates as “the conjecture is false in all possible worlds” and Bob’s as “the conjecture is true in all possible worlds”. Now take any possible world, say the fourth one. When Bob say “the fourth possible world” he means a world with a true Goldbach Conjecture. When Alice says “the fourth possible world” she means a world with a false Goldbach Conjecture. Alice’s fourth world and Bob’s fourth world are non-identical and, thus, not the same possible world. This difference holds for all of Alice’s possible worlds and all of Bob’s possible worlds. The sets of worlds are different.

      Now Alice could be right about the set of possible worlds and Bob could be right about the set of possible worlds. This possibility (the “could” in the last sentence) is a statement about distribution over sets of possible worlds rather than distribution over possible worlds.

      • http://skepticalmath.wordpress.com skepticalmath

        his difference holds for all of Alice’s possible worlds and all of Bob’s possible worlds. The sets of worlds are different.

        You have an interesting point, and perhaps this is some intricacy of modal logic I’m unfamiliar with (I’m a mathematician, not a philosopher) — however, notice that since they are arguing ultimately about whether or not the Goldbach conjecture is true in this world (our world — using world not to refer to earth, but in the logical sense), whatever sets they are using contain at least one element (this world!) Ergo, Bob saying that Goldbach is necessarily false for his set also implies that it is *not* necessarily true for Alice’s set, and so forth.

        • http://skepticalmath.wordpress.com skepticalmath

          So sorry, stupid typo.

          whatever sets they are using contain at least one element (this world!)

          should read

          the intersection of whatever sets they are using contains at least one element

        • mnb0

          Thanks you both. I did know the statement, I just did not know it was called the S5 axiom. But I do not pretend I understand it fully. So here is the next stupid question.
          What is the difference between world in the logical sense and Earth (or rather our Universe)? It seems to me on first sight that Plantinga may prove that his god exists in the world in the logical meaning of the world, but that this proof doesn’t have to apply to our Universe. If that is correct Plantinga’s god remains imaginary – he only exists in the logical construction Plantinga builds.
          Well, that is true for every decent fantasy writer as well. Then we are back at Gaunilo of Marmoutiers’ perfect island.

          • http://skepticalmath.wordpress.com skepticalmath

            Ah yes. Two points.

            1.) The use of the word “worlds” in modal logic is often confusing — so that’s not a stupid question. It actually has less to do with quantum multiverses than one might assume. Modal logic is the logic of modalities, that is, possibility and necessity. In order to formalize this, you have be very precise about under what conditions you’re talking about possibility and necessity. So in modal logic, one first must define what is called a “frame,” which is a pair of a nonempty set S, where each element of S is called a “world” or “possible world,” and a relation R between the worlds in S. R works like so: suppose w_1 and w_2 are in S. Then if w_1 is R-related to w_2, the state of w_1 (that is, all the various propositions and truth values of w_1) is a possibility for w_2. You can think of saying w_1 R w_2 as simply this: that what is possibly/necessarily true in w_1 effects what is possibly/necessarily true in w_2 (and, if R is symmetric, vice versa).

            Now that the frame (S,R) exists, a modal model can be created by specifying all the truth values of propositions in all the worlds in S. Then, a new relation, r, is defined between proposition and worlds. So if a world w exists such that w is r-related to P, then the proposition P is true for the world w.

            So you can see why the logical “world” doesn’t exactly denote a world in the colloquial sense. However, if you consider our universe as a world (in the logical sense), then you’d be considering it to be the world in which every proposition P is true for our universe iff it is true for the that world. And then perform modal logic.

            Point 2) Your reticence to accept a logical proof for God’s existence, based on the fact that it has only been proved for a logical model, not in the real world, is a philosophical position held by some well-known philosophers (for example, David Hume)

  • Francisco Bacopa

    I have a little cheat sheet thay has the HTML entity codes for most of the symbolic logic I need to do. ” ∀x ” Cool, isn’t it?

    I have a code for diamond, but not box. Anyone know the code for box?

    I really think spending a little time explaining the symbols of modal logic and then mostly just using the symbols makes all this easier.

    I think the biggest problem with the extra axiom in S5 is that it only works when the accessibility relation “R” between possible worlds is symmetric. Showing that the S5 axiom does not hold if R is not assumed to be symmetric is a beginning exercise when you’re introduced to Kripkean semantics. You know, making your set of worlds, assigning values to R in the form of ordered pairs…Good times!

    And the biggest problem with Plantinga’s argument is that whatever it proves, if anything, doesn’t really have anything to do with what most people think God is.

    • http://skepticalmath.wordpress.com skepticalmath

      I wish FTB would allow LaTeX like other WordPress blogs sometimes do :P

      Since you seem to be up on your modal logic, would you mind answering a question? I’m inherently suspicious of Plantinga’s argument because he never seems to have a well-defined notion of his set of worlds. Now, maybe this is because he’s writing for laypeople. But I feel like if you are going to make a modal argument, you might as well also define your set of worlds. Because he seems to be just using some kind of intuitive notion of “the set of all worlds” which makes me a little nervous, as a mathematician. Anyway, point being, do you know if there’s some kind of “assumed” set of worlds to be dealing with in this kind of situation? And, incidentally, accessibility relation on that set?

      • Francisco Bacopa

        As far as I know, the whole thing about Plantinga’s possible worlds isn’t that formalized. I do know for certain that if these kinds of proofs rely on S5, they assume that R is symmetric, that is, if you have {1,2} as part of R you must also have {2,1}. I’m prety sure you are following this, though you may have learned a slightly different notation. You seem to be using w_1 and w_2 instead of just numbers. The way I learned it, we always just represented a world with a number.

        I have to say despite two years of philosophy grad school, I have never had any formal instruction concerning Plantinga. He was mentioned in passing a few times by a professor who had gone to grad school with him, but I was under the impression he was considered a crank by most professional philosophers. I had no idea he was taken seriously by anyone.

        Modal logics are fun. This argument: “It is possible that it is necessary that god exists. Therefore, God exists” is valid if we have the S5 rule of inference. (BTW, I usually treat S5 as ROI rather than an axiom, but that’s a minor technical matter and you may not make that distinction. Doesn’t really matter) Interestingly enough, if cut out S5, we can show that the statement “It is possible that it is necessary that God exists, yet God does not exist” is consistent, which is the same thing as showing that the above argument is invalid in systems that don’t go as far as S5. So here goes. I’m gonna use “G” for “God exists”:

        Set of worlds = [1, 2, 3]

        R= {1,1} {1,2} {2,2} {2,3} {3,2} {3,3}

        Valuation G in 1 = F, G in 2 = T, G in 3 = T

        Pretty clear that NecesG is true in 2 . And since R includes {1,2} PossNecessG is true in world one, yet G is false there.

        The downside of this model is that it also rules out S4 as well since R is non-transitive, as well as non-symmetric.

        I liked your point that possible worlds as the term is used in modal logics is very different from the many worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics. However I do think you can do a modal logic version of the MWI. I wrote a short paper once on quantum MWI as a special case of the modal logic of physical possibility. Came up with two types of accessibility relation “Quantum Sibling” (QS) and “Quantum Cousin” (QC). QS’s are worlds which were exactly the same up until they came to differ by the outcome of a single event. QC’s are worlds that were the same up to a single quantum event and may have accumulated further differences after that point. I decided that S4 was a good axiom for this system and that the TV show Sliders was bullshit unless it was relying on a broader interpretation of physical possibility than QS and QC.

  • http://blog.earthshod.co.uk/ AJS

    Unfortunately, Plantinga’s argument is bollocks. If we take the argument further, we get the following chain of reasoning:

    1: Some people get jealous when they find out that other people are better than they are.

    2: A being who engendered negative emotions in others simply by the fact of existing would be less great than a being who did not engender negative emotions.

    3: A being who exists might therefore be less great, simply by virtue of existing and therefore engendering negative emotions in other, than a being who does not exist.

    4. We have already said that God is as great as can be. Therefore, this green-eye-inducing, extant being cannot be God.

    Conclusion: God cannot exist. QED.

    • mnb0

      Sounds like Douglas Gasking’s parody:
      1. the most marvellous achievement imaginable is the creation of the world;
      2a. the merit of such an achievement is the product of its quality and the creator’s ability;
      2b. the greater the disability of the creator, the more impressive the achievementa;
      3. non-existence would be the greatest handicap;
      4. if the universe is the product of an existent creator, we could conceive of a greater being: one which does not exist;
      5. so God does not exist.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    Thanks for this. As a layperson, I have struggled to phrase exactly what is wrong with this obviously wrong* argument, and this helps.

    I have streamlined my objection to the following, and I was wondering what you think of this:

    Can you imagine a possible world where no maximally excellent being exists? i.e. do you think it is even remotely possible that there is a world with no god?

    If so, then you have rejected premise 1 already. If you can imagine a possible world without a maximal excellent being, then obviously it is impossible that there is a maximally excellent being in every possible world, therefore it is not possible that there is a being which possesses maximal greatness.

    *See my initial comment in response to KG, above, for why any reasonable unbiased person can see this argument is prima facie wrong, even without understanding specifically why.

  • G.Shelley

    As one of those people without training in philosophy, I have never been able to understand why any variant of the ontological argument is taken seriously. But much does seem to depend on the use of the word “possible”

    1) It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

    This seems to be the first fail. We don’t know if it is possible for such a being to exist. If we live in an entirely materialistic universe, then it is not possible that a maximally great being exists. Perhaps this could be phrased as “it may be possible that a maximally great being exists”

    2) If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

    This seems tricky. How can something exist in a possible world? Things only actually exist in actual worlds, if a world is just possible, they only possibly exist. This seems common with ontological arguments, swamp the reader with so much jargon that they don’t notice you pulling a fast one. What does a “possible world” even mean? I could make up all sorts of world that are slightly different to the actual world, but are they “possible”?

    3) If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

    Again, there is the issue with “possible” and exists” Does it affect the argument if the possible world in which god exists is not an actual world?

    4) If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
    5) If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

    And here we get to an actual world
    6) Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1468751142 Kevin

    If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

    Gad what nonsense.

    First of all, you can’t get to ‘maximally great’ in absolute terms. Because it’s an infinite proposal. What’s better than god? God with a free pizza at my door. What’s better than god with a free pizza at my door? God with a free pizza and a six-pack at my door. And on and on. It’s an infinite progress (the opposite of regress).

    Therefore, ‘maximally great’ only can be thought of in relative, not absolute terms. ‘Maximally great’ compared to what? Compared to a slug? Compared to a god with a pizza and beer at my doorstep?

    I’ll believe in a maximally great being when it arrives at my doorstep with pizza and beer. And a big-screen TV. And Jessica Alba.

    • mnb0

      This one I actually understand. God is defined similar to Infinity in mathematics – compare limits. It doesn’t make sense to say that 1/0 + 1 is more than 1/0 (this is just a popular and thus a very problematic way to make it clear, I know).
      God with a free pizza and a six-pack at your door is the same as that god.
      I also ignore cardinality here, because it’s not so relevant for my point. Cantor equated the Absolute Finite with god – see Wikipedia.

  • mnb0

    As you are going to devote an entire chapter I will add a few comments on the cosmological argument, with the risk of kicking in an open door. I refer to your article of March 8, 2010.

    1. It’s questionable if all relations are causal; see Heisenberg’s Uncertainty. It’s a fact that we cannot predict when a radio active atom will fall apart; we only can calculate the chance that it will within a give timeframe. This is according to Quantum Mechanics a feature of our universe, not a lack of human skills. Note though that physicists Mark Perakh and Gerard ‘t Hooft think that there might be causality underneath after all.
    At the other hand Victor Stenger suggests that the Big Bang is the result of quantum fluctuation, ie a process of probability.
    2. All cosmological arguments assume that causality is linear. It might be circular though. The model of a fluctuating universe states that the Big Bang and the Big Crunch coincide. It has bad papers though these days.

    If you want to tackle something less shaky than Craig try this:

    http://gjerutten.blogspot.com/search/label/cosmological%20arguments

  • John

    Really just wanted to post and say thanks for putting this up. I’m a fairly new reader and I love seeing these sorts of arguments taken apart. It’s really an interesting read as someone who went through some apologetics, but didn’t have any real training in philosophy.

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  • Rosemary

    The scientific method was developed to shortcut such nonsense and therefore actually learn something of substance and usefulness.

    The modern logical method (scientific) deals in either absolutes (2 + 2 always equals 4) or probabilities.

    It makes no sense in the scientific method to claim that:

    * 2 + 2 = 5 in some “possible” world
    * therefore we can assume that it could equal 5 in this world
    * therefore it does equal 5 in this world.

    It would make more sense to argue on probability theory:

    * 2 + 2 = 5 has never been supported by any of the millions of tests conducted in world history to this date
    * therefore the probability that 2 + 2 = 5 is remote
    * while it is conceivably possible that 2 + 2 might be found to equal 5 in some future test it is prudent to believe and behave as if it does not.

    Translate to the argue for the existence of god and you get a similar conclusion of “necessary and practical refutation” of the proposition that god exists.

    * In order for the the proposition that god exists to be treated as “necessarily and practically true” it would have to proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that the probability that a particular god exists is overwhelmingly probable.
    * Christian theologians have failed to do that in spite of two millenia of trying.
    * Therefore we have to conclude that the proposition that the Christian god exists is highly improbable
    * Applying the probabilistic axiom, we must assume, for all practical purposes, that the christian god does not exist.

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