I. The Conclusion of the ABEAN Argument is UNCLEAR.
(ABEAN is an acronym for: “some Aspect of Being is Eternal And Necessary”, which is premise (4) of Hinman’s argument.)
The first thing that I look at when analyzing an argument is the conclusion of the argument. Here is the conclusion of Hinman’s ABEAN argument:
11. Therefore, some people are warranted in believing in God.
This might not seem to be unclear at first glance, but the meaning of the phrase “believing in God” is indeed unclear. One might think this means “believing that God exists”, but Hinman apparently does NOT believe that it is literally true that “God exists” (this is only metaphorically true in Hinman’s view), so this otherwise plausible interpretation of (11) is presumably incorrect.
The biggest problem here, though, is that Hinman defines the word “God” in a way that makes this concept completely unclear and obscure:
God: The transcendental signified, Universal truth at the top of the metaphysical hierarchy
If you want to make an already unclear concept even more unclear, then there is no better way to make things murky and incomprehensible than to go fishing around in the sewer consisting of the writings of the literary theorist Jacques Derrida. If you aren’t familiar with Derrida’s notion of the “transcendental signified” don’t worry, I found this brief and very helpful explanation that is sure to give you a firm grasp of this concept:
Upholding the notion of decentering, Derrida asserts that a “fixed” structure is a myth, and that all structures desire “immobility” beyond free play, which is impossible. The assumption of a centre expresses the desire for a “reassuring certitude” which stands beyond the subversive or threatening reach of any play which might disrupt the structure. The centre, that which gives stability, unity and closure to the structure, can be conceived as an “origin”, or a “purpose” — terms which invoke the notion of presence or logos that guarantee such stability and closure.
Now that we are all straight about what Derrida means by the “transcendental signified”, is anyone interested in buying a bottle of my Dr. B’s Amazing Elixir? It cures baldness, AIDS, acne, indigestion, and all forms of cancer, and I only charge $50.00 for an eight ounce bottle of it. What a bargain, right?
I swear to GOB that I did not make up the above quoted paragraph. You can read it for yourself on the LITERARY THEORY AND CRITICISM NOTES web page. WARNING: The bullshit is so deep on that page, that you may want to put on a pair of hip waders before clicking on the link.
In short, I have no clue what Joe Hinman means by the phrase “believe in God”. I seriously doubt that Hinman has much of a clue either, and I would rather not immerse my mind into the raw sewage that spews out of the books and articles of many modern literary theorists, especially NOT those by Derrida. So, the ABEAN argument as it stands is DOA. It has no clear and intelligible conclusion.
The ABEAN argument is a FAILURE even before I examine any premises or any inferences in the argument. An argument cannot possibly FAIL any faster than this one has.
II. Various Problems with Premise (1) of the ABEAN Argument
Since I have no clue what the conclusion of ABEAN asserts, I’m just going to start from the start, and work my way through the argument, step-by-step, noting any problems I discover along the way.
The first premise of the argument, like the conclusion, is unclear, at least initially:
1. All naturalistic phenomena are contingent and temporal.
In a philosophical argument, when there is a premise of the form “ALL Xs ARE Ys”, a premise that is a universal generalization, one needs to determine whether this is supposed to be an inductive generalization based on experience, or (alternatively) an a priori claim. If it is supposed to be an a priori claim, then is it an analytic truth (like “All triangles have three sides”) or some other sort of a priori claim (like a synthetic a priori claim)? More on this point later.
All three concepts in this premise are unclear, at least initially: “naturalistic phenomena”, “contingent”, and “temporal”.
However, Hinman does provide a fairly clear definition of the characteristic of being “contingent”:
Contingency: That which can cease or might have failed to exist.
The characteristic of being “contingent” contrasts with the characteristic of being “necessary”:
Necessity: That which cannot cease or fail to exist.
Here are standard-form definitions of “contingent” and “necessary”, based on what Hinman says about these concepts:
DEFINITION OF “CONTINGENT”:
X is contingent IF AND ONLY IF either (a) X can cease to exist, or (b) X can fail to exist.
DEFINITION OF “NECESSARY”:
X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF either (a) X cannot cease to exist, or (b) X cannot fail to exist.
These two concepts are supposed to create a dichotomy, a set of two categories which are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive of all possibilities. But Hinman’s definitions do NOT create a dichotomy. That is because something can “fail to exist” that cannot “cease to exist”. (There may be other problems as well. This is just the problem that I noticed right away.)
For example, a four-sided triangle CAN “fail to exist” (since it is impossible for such a thing to exist), but a four-sided triangle CANNOT “cease to exist” (because it can never exist–not even for a fraction of a second–it can never cease to exist). Based on Hinman’s definition of “contingent”, a four-sided triangle is “contingent” because it CAN “fail to exist”. Based on Hinman’s definition of “necessary”, a four-sided triangle is “necessary” because it CANNOT “cease to exist”. Thus, based on Hinman’s definitions, a four-sided triangle is BOTH “contingent” AND “necessary”. Therefore, the categories of “necessary” and “contingent” do NOT constitute a dichotomy. These two categories overlap each other; they are NOT mutually exclusive concepts.
Hinman’s inference from premise (1) and premise (4) to the sub-conclusion (5) is logically invalid, because this inference ASSUMES that the categories of “contingent” and “necessary” constitute a dichotomy, that they are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive, but this assumption is FALSE, so the the inference to (5) is INVALID.
What does Hinman mean by the term “temporal”? The category of “temporal” contrasts with the category of “eternal”. Once again, it appears that Hinman takes these two concepts to be a dichotomy, to be mutually exclusive categories, and to be jointly exhaustive categories.
But Hinman fails to provide a definition of either “temporal” or “eternal”, so we have no reasonable way to determine whether these concepts really do constitute a dichotomy, or if Hinman is just as confused in this case as he was in the case of the false dichotomy between “contingent” and “necessary”. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We should presume that Hinman is just as confused and unclear about this set of categories as we have seen him to be about the previous set of categories. Unless and until he puts forward clear definitions of “temporal” and “eternal”, we should remain doubtful about the assumption that these concepts constitute a dichotomy, and thus we should remain doubtful about any inferences that Hinman makes based on either of these UNCLEAR concepts.
What does Hinman mean by the phrase “naturalistic phenomena”? This phrase is obviously problematic and in need of clarification. Hinman does discuss this concept, but does NOT provide a clear definition of this term. What he says is summed up in this one sentence:
Thus I equate naturalistic with nature and nature with S/TC and phyiscal [sic] law.
(S/TC means: Space/Time Continuum)
The term “nature” is hardly much clearer than “naturalistic” and reference to the space/time continuum and physical law might provide a clue about what he means, but this is an inadequate clarification of a key concept in the argument. Without providing a clear definition of this key term, I don’t see how anyone can rationally evaluate premise (1) as being true or false.
One might assume that because this sounds like other cosmological arguments, that this argument is based on an empirical claim, and that premise (1) is at least one of the empirical claims in this argument. However, Hinman makes a comment that casts doubt on that reasonable assumption:
The very concept of nature is that of a contingent temporal realm.
This comment comes very close to asserting that premise (1) is an analytic truth, and thus NOT an empirical claim. So, Hinman needs to be clearer on this crucial point. Is premise (1) to be interpreted as an inductive generalization based on experience? or is it an a priori claim? If it is an a priori claim, then is it supposed to be an analytic truth? or some other kind of a priori claim? This is yet another problem that makes premise (1) an UNCLEAR statement. We need to know what sort of claim it is, in order to properly evaluate this claim. But it is less than clear whether this is supposed to be an empirical claim or an a priori claim.
Premise (1) is hopelessly unclear and confused. The meaning of the word “contingent” is clear, but is confused, because Hinman mistakenly believes that the categories of “contingent” and “necessary” constitute a dichotomy. Because of this confusion, the inference from (1) and (4) to (5) is INVALID. The meaning of the word “temporal” is unclear, because this is a problematic word that is left undefined. The meaning of the phrase “naturalistic phenomena” is unclear as well. Hinman makes an effort at clarifying the meaning of this phrase, but his effort falls short; he needs to provide a clear definition of this problematic phrase. There is also some ambiguity as to the type of claim that Hinman intends to be making. Is this premise an empirical claim or is it an a priori claim?
III. A Counter Argument from a Skeptical Point of View
Hinman has taken on the burden of proof, which is as things should be. I made no promise to put forward an argument against the existence of God. However, in reflecting on the ABEAN argument, I do have some thoughts that constitute an alternative way of thinking about the alleged “contingency” of the universe or of natural phenomena, so I’m going to give Hinman (and the other readers of this post) something to consider (and to criticize) other than my objections to his ABEAN argument:
1. A true explanation of an event requires a true claim of the form “A change in X caused a change in Y”.
2. The Big Bang can be thought of as an event, as “a change in Y”.
3. There is a true explanation for every event, including the Big Bang.
4. The Big Bang was caused by a “change in X”, by a change in something. (from 1, 2, and 3)
5. God, if God exists, is eternal (meaning “God is outside of time”).
6. Something can undergo change ONLY IF it exists in time.
7. God, if God exists, cannot undergo change. (from 5 and 6)
8. God caused the Big Bang ONLY IF God can undergo change. (from 4)
9. It is NOT the case that God caused the Big Bang. (from 7 and 8)
Another way of expressing basically the same point is that the mere existence of God is NOT sufficient to explain the coming into existence of the universe. There must be an EVENT that caused the universe to come into existence. If God caused the universe to come into existence, then God did this by creating the universe, by willing the universe to come into existence. But “creating” and “willing” are activities that require God to undergo change. So, God CANNOT be the cause of the coming into existence of the universe unless God can undergo change.
But Hinman’s concept of God, as with Norman Geisler and Thomas Aquinas, is that God is outside of time and completely unchanging. Hinman’s God, and the God of Geisler and of Aquinas, does NOT exist, because their concept of God is incoherent, it contains a logical contradiction: “God caused the universe to begin to exist AND God cannot undergo change”.
There are many more premises and inferences to analyze and evaluate in Hinman’s ABEAN argument, and I’m fairly certain that I will not be able to get to all of the remaining premises and inferences in my next post on ABEAN. I have agreed to limit myself to just two posts containing my initial objections to ABEAN, so I do not expect my critique to be comprehensive. However, there are enough problems with just the conclusion and the first premise to sink this argument, so I expect that a second post will be more than enough to justify rejection of the ABEAN argument.