Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 4: Evaluation of Argument #12

WHERE WE ARE AT WITH EXAMINATION OF ARGUMENT #12

In Part 3 of this series I analyzed the logical structure of Argument #12 in Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God from Chapter 3 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA).

My initial criticism of this argument is that much of it is devoted to support for premise (14), but premise (14) is irrelevant to the argument; it plays no role in the deductive reasoning that is the core of the argument, and by itself (14) provides no significant support for the conclusion that God exists.

I pointed out that the reasoning supporting (14) suggests or hints at an interesting line of reasoning against naturalism and for supernaturalism, but the question at issue here is: “Does God exist?”, and an argument for supernaturalism does not answer this question.  Proving that something supernatural exists is a far cry from proving that God exists.  So, in the end, we should simply ignore premise (14) and the bulk of the premises and inferences that Kreeft included in Argument #12.

 

SUPPORT FOR THE PREMISES OF THE CORE ARGUMENT

Having set aside the reasoning supporting premise (14), we will now focus on the core of Argument #12, which is this bit of deductive reasoning:

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

6a. But only God himself has the qualities contained in the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

Neither of the premises of this argument is self-evident or obviously true, so Kreeft needs to provide some reason or argument in support of each premise.  According to my previous analysis of the logical structure of the argument, neither premise was supported by a reason or argument.

However, it seems to me that one of the premises in the arguments supporting (14) could be viewed as providing support for (15) as well:

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

Another assumption would be required in order to make use of (12) to support (15):

G.  If X has qualities that are less than the qualities contained in Y, then Y is greater than X.

So, we can reconstruct the reasoning probably intended to support premise (15):

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

G.  If X has qualities that are less than the qualities contained in Y, then Y is greater than X.

THEREFORE:

15. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities contained in the idea of God.

As for premise (6a), there does not appear to be any premises supporting (14) that could be viewed as also providing support for (6a). Kreeft provides no support for premise (6a).  However, we will soon see that on one interpretation of (6a), this premise is obviously true, so given that interpretation, there would be no need for Kreeft to provide any reasons or arguments in support of (6a).  In a moment, I will discuss the interpretation(s) of premise (6a).

 

THE PREMISES OF THE CORE ARGUMENT ARE AMBIGUOUS

There is a very serious problem with the core of Argument #12, that makes it challenging to evaluate this argument.  There is an ambiguity in the key expression “the qualities contained in the idea of God”.  If we set aside the idea of God for a moment, we can see the problem of ambiguity in talk about the idea of an elephant:

  • The idea of an elephant contains the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse. 
  • It is NOT the case that the idea of an elephant contains the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse.

The first statement seems true, because the qualities specified are the qualities we use to identify something as being an elephant.  But the second statement, which directly contradicts the first statement, also seems true, because ideas have no color, no appendages, and no size.  The problem is that we need to make a distinction between the qualities of the idea itself, and the qualities that define the object of the idea:

  • The idea of an elephant REFERS TO the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse. 
  • It is NOT the case that the idea of an elephant POSSESS the qualities of (a) being gray, (b) having a trunk, and (c) being larger than a horse.

If we use the two different expressions above to mark the distinction between talk about the qualities of an idea itself (the idea itself possesses, or does not possess, various qualities) versus talk about the qualities that define the object of an idea (the qualities to which an idea refers), then we can distinguish two different meanings or interpretations of premise (15) and of premise (6a).  Because both premises are ambiguous and have two possible interpretations, we can formulate four different interpretations or versions of the core deductive reasoning of Argument #12.   

We can see how using the above expressions to mark the distinction helps to clarify claims about the idea of God:

  • The idea of God REFERS TO the qualities of (a) omnipotence, (b) omniscience, and (c) being the creator of the universe. 
  • It is NOT the case that the idea of God POSSESS the qualities of (a) omnipotence, (b) omniscience, and (c) being the creator of the universe. 

Using this clearer language, we can be confident that the above two statements are both true.

 

VERSION I: UNSOUND  BECAUSE (6.1) IS FALSE

15.1. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

6.1. But only God himself has the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

In this version, both premises are talking about the qualities of the IDEA itself (e.g. an idea has no size, no shape, no weight).  The idea itself is NOT a person, and is NOT omnipotent, and is NOT the creator of the universe.  So, on this interpretation, the core argument is clearly UNSOUND, because premise (6.1) is FALSE.

All of my ideas are non-persons, non-omnipotent, and non-creators.  So, many different ideas possess the same qualities that are possessed by the idea of God.  Furthermore, God himself lacks some of the qualities that my ideas have, and many of my other ideas possess qualities possessed by the idea (itself) of God.  So, it is NOT the case that only God has the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God; premise (6.1) is FALSE.

 

VERSION II: PROBABLY UNSOUND BECAUSE (15.2) IS PROBABLY FALSE 

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

In this case the second premise, premise (6.2), appears to be true; only God has the qualities that are used to define the meaning of the word “God”.  On this interpretation, premise (6.2) is obviously true, and thus no reasons or arguments are needed to support this premise.

But on this interpretation of Argument #12, the first premise, premise (15.2), is FALSE.  Some of the qualities that are referred to by the idea of God are: omnipotence, omniscience, and being the creator of the universe.  But the idea itself is NOT omnipotent, and NOT omniscient, and it is NOT the creator of the universe.  So even if one assumes that only an omnipotent being could be the cause of another omnipotent being, this has no relevance to this case, because the idea itself does not possess the quality of omnipotence.

The argument supporting premise (15.2) is based on premise (12):

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

Premise (12) seems (at least to Kreeft) to imply that something that is lacking the quality of omnipotence could not be the cause of something that possesses the quality of omnipotence, but this is irrelevant to the case under consideration here: the idea of God (the idea itself) is NOT omnipotent, does NOT possess the quality of omnipotence, and thus it does NOT require something that is omnipotent to be its cause.  Kreeft’s argument in support of (15.2) FAILS.

Furthermore, we have a good inductive reason to doubt the truth of premise (15.2), because in the case of almost any other idea that we can think of, the existence of that idea does NOT require a cause that possesses the qualities referred to by that idea.

My idea of an elephant MIGHT have been caused by something that is gray, has a trunk, and is larger than a horse, but it MIGHT also have been caused by something that does NOT possess those qualities.  For example, it might have been caused by viewing a cartoon of a pink elephant, and by hearing someone say that elephants are actually gray and not pink.  The cartoon is not gray, does not have a trunk, and is not larger than a horse, and yet the cartoon is (or could be) the cause of my idea of an elephant.  We can imagine many such scenarios for many different ideas that we have, so it appears to be a general fact that the cause of an idea does NOT need to possess the qualities referred to by the idea in question.  Thus, premise (15.2) is probably FALSE.

 

VERSION III: UNSOUND BECAUSE LOGICALLY INVALID

15.1. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

On this interpretation,  Argument #12 is logically invalid, because (15.1) is talking about the set of qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God, but (6.2) is talking about the set of qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.  The premises are talking about two different sets of qualities, and so they do NOT logically connect with each other.

On this interpretation, the second premise, premise (6.2), is obviously true, and premise (15.1) has some initial plausibility (the argument Kreeft gives for this premise is at least relevant, though it is based on a dubious premise).  But even if (15.1) were true, this argument would still be UNSOUND because the logic of the argument is INVALID.

 

VERSION IV: UNSOUND BECAUSE LOGICALLY INVALID AND PREMISE (6.1) IS FALSE

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.1. But only God himself has the qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

Once again, the first premise, premise (15.2), is talking about qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God (e.g. omniscience, omnipotence, etc.), but the second premise, premise (6.1), is talking about qualities POSSESSED BY the idea of God (e.g. the idea itself is NOT omniscient, and is NOT omnipotent, etc.).  So, the premises are talking about two different sets of qualities.  Therefore, this version of Argument #12 is logically INVALID, because the two premises do not logically connect with each other.

Furthermore, premise (15.2) is probably FALSE, as I have argued above, and premise (6.1) is clearly FALSE.  So, this version of the argument is UNSOUND because it is INVALID and because premise (6.1) is FALSE.

 

CONCLUSION: ARGUMENT #12 IS A BAD ARGUMENT

The bulk of Argument #12 is concerned with supporting premise (14), but premise (14) is irrelevant to the conclusion, so that portion of the argument constitutes a Red Herring fallacy; it is a lot of blather about a point that is irrelevant to the question at issue.

The core of Argument #12, on the other hand, is a bit of deductive reasoning that IS relevant to the question at issue.  However, the core of Argument #12 has a very serious flaw: both of its premises use an ambiguous phrase: “the qualities contained in the idea of God”.  When the meaning of this phrase is clarified, we see that there are four possible interpretations of the core of Argument #12.  We examined each of those interpretations, and discovered that the core of Argument #12 is UNSOUND no matter which interpretation we give it.

Because this argument is UNSOUND no matter which interpretation we consider, we must conclude that Argument #12 is a BAD argument and that it provides ZERO support for the conclusion that “God exists”.

===========================

FURTHER DISCUSSION ABOUT PREMISE (15)

I have argued above that premise (15) is ambiguous; it could mean either (15.1) or (15.2).  The same is true of premise (6); it could mean either (6.1) or (6.2).   However, (6.1) is clearly FALSE, and (6.2) is clearly TRUE.  Since Kreeft provides no reason or argument in support of (6), this indicates he believes (6) to be obviously true.  Therefore, the best interpretation of (6) is (6.2), because (a) this is the more charitable interpretation (it is true rather than false), and (b) this interpretation makes sense of the fact that Kreeft provides no reason or argument in support of premise (6).

If we interpret (6) as meaning (6.2), then in order for the argument to be LOGICALLY VALID, we must also interpret premise (15) as meaning (15.2).  Otherwise, if we pair (6.2) with (15.1) the premises will be talking about two different sets of qualities and the argument would be INVALID.  So, if (6.2) is the best interpretation of (6), then in order to follow the principle of charity, we must take premise (15) to mean (15.2).

Here then, is the best interpretation of the bit of deductive reasoning that is the core of Argument #12:

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

(This is what I called “Version II” of Argument #12).

Although the sets of qualities spoken of by (6.2) and (15.2) are the same set of qualities, there is still a problem with the logic of this argument.  Premise (15.2) talks about something that “has nothing less than” the qualities referred to by the idea of God, but premise (6.2) talks about something that simply “has” the qualities referred to by the idea of God.  These are different ideas, so the above argument is NOT a formally valid deductive argument.

We need a slightly different statement than (15.2) to work with (6.2):

15.3. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

6.2. But only God himself has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

7. God himself must be the cause of the idea of God.

It seems to me that Kreeft (or a Christian apologist who was sympathetic with Kreeft’s Argument #12) would try to deduce (15.3) from (15.2) like this:

15.2. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

H. IF anything has nothing less than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God, THEN either it (or those things) has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God, OR it (or those things) has qualities that are greater than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

I. Nothing can have qualities that are greater than the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

THEREFORE:

15.3. The idea of God must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of God.

The expressions “has nothing less than the qualities…” and “qualities that are greater than the qualities…” are unacceptably vague and unclear, so we cannot rationally evaluate the premises of this argument.  Kreeft would need to provide clarification or definitions of these unclear phrases in order for it to be possible to rationally evaluate this argument for (15.3).

Premise (15.2) appears to be based upon premise (12):

12. No effect can be greater than its cause.

Premise (12) is also unacceptably vague and unclear.  The problematic phrase is “greater than”.  Kreeft provides no definition of this vague and unclear expression, so we cannot rationally evaluate (12).  However, there are various claims that seem to be implications of (12), and we know that these apparent implications are FALSE:

  • Something that is SMALL cannot cause something that is LARGE.
  • Something that is WEAK cannot cause something that is STRONG.
  • Something that is UNINTELLIGENT cannot cause something that is INTELLIGENT.

We can easily come up with examples that contradict these claims:

  • A SMALL lump of uranium can cause a LARGE nuclear explosion.
  • Parents who are WEAK can produce children who are STRONG.
  • UNINTELLIGENT single-celled animals can kick off the process of evolution leading to the existence of INTELLIGENT animals, such as humans.

Since various claims that appear to be implications of (12) are clearly FALSE, this gives us good reason to doubt the truth of (12), even though the meaning of (12) is unacceptably vague and unclear.  Whatever meaning is given to (12) by Kreeft or a sympathetic apologist, it is likely to be subject to counterexamples like those above.

Thus, there are two problems with the arguments for (15.2) and (15.3).  The arguments are based on claims that are unacceptably vague and unclear, and the arguments depend on the truth of premise (12) which is also unacceptably unclear, but which appears to have implications that we KNOW to be FALSE.  Kreeft’s argument for (15.3) therefore FAILS.

We also have good inductive evidence that (15.3) is FALSE.  Many claims of a similar form are clearly FALSE:

  • The idea of SUPERMAN must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of SUPERMAN.
  • The idea of SANTA CLAUS must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of SANTA CLAUS.
  • The idea of FRANKENSTEIN must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of FRANKENSTEIN.
  • The idea of KING KONG must have been caused by something which has the qualities REFERRED TO BY the idea of KING KONG.

These analogous claims give us good reason to doubt the truth of premise (15.3).  Since Kreeft has given us no good reason to believe (15.3), and since we have a good reason to doubt the truth of (15.3), we ought to reject this premise unless and until some good reason or argument is given to show that premise (15.3) is true.

 

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