One Man’s Modus Ponens…

Here is an argument for the existence of God:

1. If there is a God, then it is very likely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.

2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.

3. There is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.

Therefore:

4. Other things being equal, it is probable that God exists.

I chose to structure this as a probability argument rather than as a modus ponens, but the saying ‘One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.’ (a lovely skeptical principle) can be applied here, in a manner of speaking.

The first two premises seem plausible to me, but premise (3) is clearly false. So, the tables can be turned, and this argument can be reformulated to be used as a reason for rejecting or doubting the existence of God:

1. If there is a God, then it is very likely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.

2. If there is no God, then it is very unlikely that there is a book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.

5. There is no book that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.

Therefore:

6. Other things being equal, it is probable that God does NOT exist.

Obviously, premise (5) is controversial and will require a fair amount of support (including criticism of the Old Testament, the Quran, the Vedas, etc.). But I am quite confident that a strong case can be made for (5), and that a reasonable and open-minded theist could be persuaded by facts and reasons that (5) is true.

  • Kip Hartwell

    I would like to know what book he is referring to in #3. I know of no such book. If #3 was to be true there would be no arguing about its meaning AND people would live by its literal laws. As no such book exists, your #5 is the default position.

    The position that there exists a book, purported to be a divine revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance, and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives has not met the burden of proof.

    As an aside, how can something being purported to be, be proof of anything. That is like how Nessy is purported to be proof of no evolution. Thinking something exists is not proof that it exist.

    Now excuse me, Santa is at the door and wants to talk about some purported naughty deeds I did :P

    • Bradley Bowen

      Kip Harwell said:

      As an aside, how can something being purported to be, be proof of anything. That is like how Nessy is purported to be proof of no evolution. Thinking something exists is not proof that it exist.

      ====================
      Response:

      Being purported to be a divine revelation is just one of a number of criteria that is layed out in the premise, so it is not being put forward as “proof” by itself.

      It is, however, relevant as a consideration. This is because if God existed and wished to provide a book containing useful information and guidance to human beings, God would probably also want it to be communicated AS a message from God, partly because it would (on this scenario) be a message from God and partly because the purpose of communicating this information and guidance would be well served if people were generally aware of the book and aware of the claim that the book came from God.

      Also, if the premise specified that the book IN FACT came from God, it would be difficult to determine whether the premise was true. It is much easier to determine that a book is purported to be from God than it is to determine that a book IN FACT came from God.

      Furthermore, since the question at issue is ‘Does God exist?’ it would beg the question to build the assumption that God exists into the evidence being presented in support of the claim that ‘God exists’. To asser that ‘This book came from God’ is to assume that there is a God who is available to create a book.

      • Kip Hartwell

        If it were to be relevant for consideration it has to have some value as determining if the proposition is true.

        How does the act of saying something is holy or divinely inspired help that?

        Does it help you decide if the Book Of Mormon is divine? Dyanetics? How about the Thor books commonly published with nice pictures these days. They are truly divine and no one has to claim it :P

        If a book was divinely inspired, why would it need to claim it? It should be self evident.

        • Bradley Bowen

          If a divinely inspired book would be self-evidently divinely inspired, then it would be very likely that a divinely inspired book would be purported to be divinely inspired.

          So, your point supports my view.

          My claim is NOT that ‘Any book which is purportedly divinely inspired is probably in fact divinely inspired’. I agree that such a claim would be false.

          My claim is rather that ‘Any book wihich is in fact divinely inspired is probabily also purported to be divinely inspired’.

          Obviously, many books that are purportedly divinely inspired are not in fact divinely inspired. But this does narrow the field down considerably. The Library of Congress contains over 150 million items (not all books). I doubt that more than one million are purportedly divine revelations. So, we can eliminate at least 99% of books as candidates by this criterion.

          • Kip Hartwell

            Actuality, no. You dodged my point. You can not use “purported to be divinely inspired” as a test, even negative. Because: It can not be true that all purported to be divinely inspired book are, and conversely it could be true that they are all not divinely inspired.

            You could find a book hidden in the library that is divinely inspired, and no one knew it. Or you could look at a rock in your hat and make a brand new book today with divine inspiration.

            Age does not help determination of authorship.
            Popularity is also not a good test.
            Only proof of divinely inspired origins would be enough.

          • Bradley Bowen

            Kip Hartwell said:

            You can not use “purported to be divinely inspired” as a test, even negative. Because: It can not be true that all purported to be divinely inspired book are, and conversely it could be true that they are all not divinely inspired.
            =================

            Your reasons are a bit difficult for me to follow.

            “It can not be true that all purported to be divinely inspired book are…”

            I think you mean that “Not all books that are purported to be divinely inspired are in fact divinely inspired”. Do I understand this point correctly?

            If so, I agree with this point, but don’t see how it conflicts with my claim that a divinely insprired book is likely to be a book that is purported to be divinely inspired.

            You admit that a book that is in fact divinely inspired would be obvious; that is, it would be obvious to most people who read such a book that it was a divinely inspired book. But if that is the case, then it follows that a book that is divinely inpired would usually also be a book that is purported to be divinely insprired, because people who read the book would, as a general rule, conclude that the book was divinely inspired.

            You go on to say “and conversely it could be true that they are all not divinely inspired.” I think what you mean here is that “it is possible that none of the books that is purported to be divinely inspired is in fact divinely inspired.” Do I understand your point correctly?

            If so, then I also agree with your second point, and also do not see how it conflicts with my claim that books that are in fact divinely inspired will probably be books that are purported to be divinely inspired.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Another point I have in mind is this: ‘Any book which is NOT purported to be a divine revelation is probably NOT a divine revelation’

          In other words, this iworks as a negative test, as a way of eliminating many potential candidates right off the bat.

          Not all cars that get good gas mileage are GOOD cars, but I can quickly narrow the field of cars down by applying the criterion ‘Gets good gas mileage’.

          There may be lots of BAD cars that get good gas mileage, but there will be a much shorter list of cars to examine and consider (when I’m looking to buy or lease a new car) if I eliminate the cars with poor gas mileage to start with.

  • Dennis

    Given what is known about human nature, I have grave doubts of the validity of Premise 2. It seems implausible. Even Premise 1 is questionable. I do accept Premise 5.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Dennis – Can you say a bit more about how what is known about human nature casts doubt on premise 2?

      It seems to me that what we know about human nature supports premise 2. One thing we know about human nature is that knowledge of facts about how the physical universe works does not come easily or automatically to human beings. It has take many centuries of thought and investigation to come up with a basic scientific understanding of the physical universe. Thus, apart from some sort of superhuman assistance, it is very unlikely that a book written many centuries ago would contain nothing but true facts, wisdom, etc.

      Another thing we know about human nature is that human thinking has been plagued by egocentirism, sociocentrism, superstition, prejudice, ignorance, rationalization, etc. We are not ‘rational animals’ at least not naturally and automatically. We are by nature irrational animals, and thus this is another reason why, apart from some sort of superhuman assistance, a book written centuries ago (or even last week) would be unlikely to contain nothing but true facts, wisdom, and clear and sound moral guidance.

      Perhaps you have doubts about premise 2 because you believe that even with an actual divine revelation that truly did contain nothing but true facts, wisdom, and clear and sound moral guidance, that people, being naturally egocentirc, sociocentric, ignorant, superstitious, and irrational, would not be able to benefit much from such a book, and thus the final condition would fail to be met: that the book would “greatly help people to live good and happy lives”. Is that your objection to premise 1?

    • Bradley Bowen

      I meant (in the final sentence of my response below) to say:

      Is that your objectiojn to premise 2?

  • L.Long

    How about…..

    If there is a God, then it is very likely that there is a book
    that was written many centuries ago that is purported to be a divine
    revelation, and that is widely known about, and that is filled with
    nothing but true facts and wisdom and clear and sound moral guidance,
    and that provides great help for people to live good and happy lives.
    Then…
    There is no reason why that gawd could not write a better book now that we the scribes know a lot more about the nature of the universe and moral behavior.

    • Bradley Bowen

      God, being omniscient, would have known all of that information (that we the scribes took many centuries to figure out) at the time he wrote or dictated the book of divine revelation many centuries ago. However, it would be difficult to talk about atoms, electrons, protons, photons, electromagnetic forces, chemistry, microbiology, genetics, etc. to primitive people who could barely read or write down simple observations.

      So, it might well be appropriate for God to issue an updated version of his book, so that he could talk more clearly about things about which primitive humans had little or no understanding.

      It took many centuries for science to evolve and to significantly impact human understanding of reality, so God’s book would not have required yearly updates. Maybe once per century would have been more than adequate. Once every 500 years would have been just fine.

  • ZenDruid

    If there were truly a ‘god’, then ‘he’ would have writ ‘his book’ directly into the consciousness of infants. Con men, obnoxious beggars and cheap storytellers, and the guilt-based industry they promulgated, would be completely out of the loop.

    For example, no child genuflects at birth. That would be a positive indicator of some sort.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Writing a book directly into the consciousness of infants would give the true divine revelation a unique position in human consciousness, above any other pseudo divine revelation. However, infants need to learn language before the words imprinted in their brains made any sense, and this seems a bit heavy-handed, if God believed that human free will was of enough value to compensate for the many horrible human-caused evils in the world.

      An ordinary book would have the advantage that one could freely reject God’s wisdom and guidance without having God’s advice constantly popping into one’s consciousness. If free will was improtant to God, then a book would have an advantage over hard-wiring words and sentences into the human brain.

      • ZenDruid

        Agreed, but it seems to me that moods and emotions are the ‘payload’ of scripture, and the stories merely the vehicle.

        • Bradley Bowen

          Wisdom and sound moral guidance are ideas that have emotional/psychological implications. True moral principles, for example, probably won’t motivate a sociopath to actions that are benevolent and just. So, words, sentences, and true or sound principles are not sufficient in themselves.

          But although empathy and sympathy are essential to morality, I don’t think they are sufficient either. There needs to be more specific cognitive content: Something like the Ten Commandments (though I reject some of these), something like criminal laws, something like moral principles that we teach our children.

  • Eric Sotnak

    I don’t see why we should accept premise #1. Why is it at all likely that God would use such a “once-and-for-all” means of revealing truth to humanity in the form of a book? Encyclopedias and other reference works (whether print or online) need regular updates, but God can’t be bothered to update what is allegedly the most important reference work in human history? Not even when questions of accuracy and interpretation have lead to violence?
    I see no reason, also, why any other form of revelation would have to rule out free will (assuming a libertarian view). Suppose, instead, that God chose to reveal wisdom to humanity through an oracle, who could give sage answers to novel questions such as, “should governments permit or prohibit genetic enhancement of humans?” No one would be forced to respect the oracle’s advice.
    But along the lines of ZenDruid’s comments, many theists already believe that God has given us intuitive/innate knowledge of morality or even of God’s existence (c.f. Locke’s attack on innate ideas in the Essay) and they don’t think this impedes free will because they also attribute to people the power to disregard such intuitions or matters of conscience. Suitably implemented, why wouldn’t a system like this be superior to a written text?

    • Bradley Bowen

      Eric Sotnak said:
      Why is it at all likely that God would use such a “once-and-for-all”
      means of revealing truth to humanity in the form of a book?
      Encyclopedias and other reference works (whether print or online) need
      regular updates, but God can’t be bothered to update what is allegedly
      the most important reference work in human history? Not even when
      questions of accuracy and interpretation have lead to violence?

      =============
      God, being omniscient, should be able to anticipate the most common and most dangerous misinterpretations, and thus build in clarifications to avoid them.

      But suppose you are right, that even a book written by an omniscient and perfectly good person would need to be updated from time to time. I don’t see how that contradicts premise (1).

      • Eric Sotnak

        Suppose we put it as a counterargument to premise 1, then.
        ca1. If a book is not the best way for God to communicate a revelation to humanity, then it is unlikely that he would use one to do so.
        ca2. A book is not the best way for God to communicate a revelation to humanity. [here is where the problems of interpretation, accurate preservation, translation, and lack of updates are relevant]
        ca3. It is unlikely that God would use a book to communicate a revelation to humanity.

        • Bradley Bowen

          I understand your logic. I’m just not persuaded that ca2 is correct.

          Interpretation is a problem with any sort of communication, whether verbal, written, musical, artistic, etc. I think a written communication would be better than a verbal one. We don’t, for example, make laws verballly, we write laws down and publish them in books. We do make verbal contracts, but verbal contracts are very problematic, and most businesses avoid verbal contracts and use written contracts.

          I agree that an updated version of a book of divine revelation may be required from time to time, perhaps every 500 years or so, but that seems not to be a signficant problem or disadvantage for communication via a book as opposed to using music, paintings, movies, cartoons, poems, or the verbal conversations of an oracle.

          In short, if I were God, I would use a book to communicate over other methods of communication that come to mind.

          • Eric Sotnak

            Although (or maybe because) laws are written down, there are tremendous problems of interpretation and application. Legal scholars and professionals often cannot agree on what legal documents mean or how (or even whether) they should be applied in a given case. It is plausible that this is an ineliminable problem. Laws are by nature general, but individual events and states of affairs are particular. If only there were a perfectly wise judge who would always know in any given case whether (and how) a general rule applies, political and legal disagreements could be avoided. Clearly, the same problems apply when trying to figure out how to apply divine revelations.
            But here is another thought. It seems (to believe the Biblical narrative) that when God really wanted to get things done, he did not communicate via the written word. He made miraculous appearances and delivered situation-specific instructions. This supports ca2.

          • Bradley Boiwen

            Eric -Thank you for your thoughtful comments and objections.

            Eric Sotnak said:

            Although (or maybe because) laws are written down, there are tremendous problems of interpretation and application. Legal scholars and professionals often cannot agree on what legal documents mean or how (or even whether) they should be applied in a given case. It is plausible that this is an ineliminable problem. Laws are by nature general, but individual events and states of affairs are particular. If only there were a perfectly wise judge who would always know in any given case whether (and how) a general rule applies, political and legal disagreements could be avoided. Clearly, the same problems apply when trying to figure out how to apply divine revelations.

            ======================
            Yes, there are often disagreements about what laws mean and about how to apply a set of laws to a particular cirucmstance.

            But, despite the problems of interpretation and application, we continue to write laws and to enforce laws that are written down into books. I don’t see a better method for maintaining a balance between order and freedom. Do you know of an alternative method that has actually been put into practice sucessfully in a city or state or country?

            Also, our laws are written by ignorant, fallibile, and selfish human beings. But a book authored by God would be a book authored by a person who was knowledgable about everything, and by a person who was infallible, and by a person who was perfectly good and perfectly just, and who had no objective other than promotion of human well-being. So, some of the problems that we experience with ordinary human-created laws and books would not apply to a book authored by God.

            One of the main reasons why there are disagreements over the meaning of laws is that different people have different interests, and those interests bias their interpretation.

            The same thing happens, of course, with interpretation of the Bible and other sacred books. But this does not mean that a person who is seriously interested in forming an accurate and objective interpretation will be unable to do so, it just means that more often than not, the people doing the interpretation care more about their own self interest, or the interests of their particular group of people, than they do about forming an accurate and objective interpretation of the text in question.

            I don’t want a perfectly wise judge to tag along with me each day and whisper his guidance and rulings into my ear about every decision that I make. Such a deity would be a busybody who has no respect for human autonomy.

            God, if God exists, gave us humans nice plump brains for a reason, and it seems contrary to the purposes of such a being to simply tell everybody exactly what they should do at every turn. If all I’m supposed to do is follow orders that are whispered into my ear, then God would have given me a tiny walnut sized brain, for that is all that would be needed to be an unthinking subservient soldier in God’s army.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Eric Sotnak said:

      I see no reason, also, why any other form of revelation would have to
      rule out free will (assuming a libertarian view). Suppose, instead, that
      God chose to reveal wisdom to humanity through an oracle, who could
      give sage answers to novel questions such as, “should governments permit
      or prohibit genetic enhancement of humans?” No one would be forced to
      respect the oracle’s advice.
      =====================
      Good point. An oracle giving sage answers to specific questions would not impact human free will.

      But there are other advantages of a book besides allowing for free will. A book from God would presumably provide principles of practical wisdom and principles of morality, which would leave room for an individual person to do some of the thinking involved in making important decisions. The question ‘Should I marry Janet Smith?’ could be asked and answered by an oracle, but then the person who asked the question would perhaps be a rather shallow, thoughtless, and inauthentic person. Shouldn’t one make that sort of decision for oneself, rather than going to an authority? even if the authority was God?

      Also, a book can be mass produced and distributed more easily than a conversation. Then everyone can read and study and discuss the same book, as opposed to each person having a separate and different conversation with the oracle. All of the conversations of the oracle could be written into a journal and published, but then the journals would just keep coming out, year after year, and the topics would be determined by the questions people asked, so the contents would be somewhat haphazard and miscellaneous.

      An oracle would work, but I think a book would have significant advantages over an oracle, and even over the documented conversations of an oracle.

    • Bradley Bowen

      Eric Sotnak said:

      But along the lines of ZenDruid’s comments, many theists already believe that God has given us intuitive/innate knowledge of morality or even of God’s existence (c.f. Locke’s attack on innate ideas in the Essay) and they don’t think this impedes free will because they also attribute to people the power to disregard such intuitions or matters of conscience. Suitably implemented, why wouldn’t a system like this be superior to a written text?

      =======================
      Response:

      Conscience is too vague to provide clear and sound moral guidance. I believe that if God existed and wanted to provide clear and sound moral guidance, then such guidance would be clearer and more specific than conscience but less clear and less specific than an oracle who answers every detailed and specific question than anyone can think to ask. A book would be able to provide the sort of cognitive content that is required, and it would do so in a way that is not intrusive on human free will, autonomy, and self-respect.

      If I believed that there was an omniscient and perfectly good person to whom I could turn for practical and moral guidance, I would want to take advantage of the knowledge and wisdom of that person, but I would NOT want that person to be bumping around inside of my head. Nor would I want that person tagging along with me everywhere I go, every minute of every day and night.

      The Christian idea of a God who constantly reads my mind, hears my every thought, and who judges, evaluates, and criticizes my every thought, is the idea of Big Brother magnified a thousand fold. If there were a God, and if this God cared about human free wil, authonomy, and self-respect, then God, as a perfectly good person, would give me some breathing room, and would not create a nightmare situation where Big Brother God is my own person thought police department.

      Just give me the book, God. I will read it, and think it over, and if I agree with some points, I just might put them into action, if I decide to do so.

      Yes, I could ignore the voice of ‘God’ ringing out inside my head, but I would be ignoring the voice of the Big Brother thought police, or the voice of a busybody, not the voice of a person who was treating me as an end in myself, who was treating me as a rational and autonomous being.


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