Hinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 1: “Eternal and Necessary”

Hinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 1: “Eternal and Necessary” June 26, 2017

Joe Hinman wants me to seriously consider two arguments for the conclusion that “God is real”.  I’m going to focus on his ABEAN argument for a number of posts, before I examine his argument from religious experience.

I have attempted to summarize Hinman’s  first argument in a brief standard form argument:

Hinman’s ABEAN Argument

1. All natural phenomena are contingent and temporal.

2. IF all natural phenomena are contingent and temporal, THEN some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

THEREFORE:

3. Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

4. IF some aspect of being is eternal and necessary, THEN there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real.

5. IF there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real, THEN there is good reason to believe that God is real.

THEREFORE:

6. There is good reason to believe that God is real.

I think of this argument in terms of three steps or phases:

THREE STEPS OF THE ABEAN ARGUMENT

   Step 1            Step 2          Step 3

—->ABEAN—->GOBIR—->GIR

ABEAN:  Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

GOBIR:  The Ground of Being is real.

GIR: God is real.

Each of these three key conclusions is unclear, at least they are unclear to me.  Perhaps Hinman has a clear idea of what these three assertions mean, but before I can have any hope of rationally evaluating his ABEAN argument, I need to have a better understanding of what these assertions mean, what they imply and what they don’t imply, what they rule out, and what they don’t rule out.

The Meaning of ABEAN

The first step or phase of Hinman’s argument is to show that ABEAN is true:

ABEAN: Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

But meaning is prior to truth.  We must first understand the meaning of ABEAN before we can assess whether it is true or false, coherent or incoherent.

Here are some other similar assertions with different subjects that should be understood in relation to the meaning of ABEAN:

ATEAN:  Some aspect of TIME is eternal and necessary.

ASEAN:  Some aspect of SPACE is eternal and necessary.

AMEAN:  Some aspect of MATTER is eternal and necessary.

AJEAN:  Some aspect of JELLO is eternal and necessary.

Here are some other similar assertions with different predicates that should be understood in relation to the meaning of ABEAN:

ABBAY: Some aspect of being is bright and yellow.

ABCAR: Some aspect of being is curved and round.

ABSAP: Some aspect of being is strong and powerful.

ABAAA: Some aspect of being is alive and aware.

If the meaning of ABEAN is clear to someone, then the meanings of the above similar statements should also be clear to that person.  If Hinman understands the meaning of ABEAN, then he ought to be able to explain the meaning of these similar statements, and comment on their coherence or incoherence, and their truth or falsehood.

Some of the above statements may be incoherent. but a person who understands the ABEAN assertion should be able to understand and explain why such an incoherent statement was incoherent.  For example, it might be incoherent to assert ABBAY, the assertion that some aspect of being is bright and yellow, because there is a category mistake in applying the properties of “bright and yellow” to being.  The same might be said about ABCAR, and the application of the properties “curved and round” to being.  But if we are to reject ABBAY and ABCAR as incoherent because they apply inappropriate properties to being, how can we be confident that ABSAP and ABAAA are not also incoherent statements?  And if ABSAP and ABAAA are incoherent statements, then how could we be confident that ABEAN was not similarly incoherent?  What sorts of properties can we coherently apply to “being”?

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NOTE:

We are much more familiar with describing physical objects, plants, animals, people, human activities, historical events, etc.  People don’t generally go around describing “being”.  So, the rules or logic and language concerning how to talk about “being” are unfamiliar at the very least, and are presumably unclear, at least to most of us.

However, we do sometimes talk intelligently and coherently about abstractions like “gravity” and “integers” and “science” and “logic” and “time” and “morality”,  so it is possible to make coherent statements about abstractions.  We cannot simply rule out the possibility that there are coherent and true statements that can be made about “being”.

I, for one, would be more comfortable talking about the properties of “being” if there was a collection of several statements ascribing properties to “being” where those statements have a fairly clear meaning and also were obviously true, or at least seemed to be true.  (Mr. Hinman or anyone else reading this post: Can you provide some examples of clear statements about being that are clearly true or that at least seem to be true?  I’m looking for statements about being that are less controversial than ABEAN.)

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Furthermore, if ABSAP and ABAAA are incoherent statements, then it is hard to see how it would be coherent to make similar assertions about the Ground of Being, namely that the Ground of Being was strong and powerful, and that the Ground of Being was alive and aware.  But if we cannot coherently make these assertions about the Ground of Being, then how can we coherently make these assertions about God?  But surely any God who is worthy of worship must be (at the least) strong and powerful and alive and aware.  So, if we cannot coherently make these sorts of assertions about the Ground of Being, then the ABEAN argument falls apart.

Let’s consider what Hinman has to say about the meaning of ABEAN, and whether his comments and attempts at clarification help to answer these questions and concerns:

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BB:

What does it mean to say that an “aspect of being is eternal”?
Joe:

There are only three alternatives for origin of all things given the assumption of cause and effect. They are             (1) reality began in a state of nothing and something emerged from nothing, (2) There is an Infinite Causal Regression (ICR) that just happens to always be as a brute fact. (3) Something exists eternally that gives rise to all that is. for various reasons I reject 1 and 2. From the premise that something cannot come from true absolute nothing, something must be eternal and thus able to give rise to all that is not eternal. So at this point we have a distinction between the eternal which I might call “primordial being;” the first form of being, or “ground of being,”  and temporal being or “the beings.” McQuarrie makes the distinction between primordial being and the beings.

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Joe provides three alternatives and attempts to eliminate two of the alternatives.  Joe rejects the option that something came from nothing (hereafter: SFN), and he rejects the option of an infinite causal regress (ICR).  That leaves the third alternative: “Something exists eternally that gives rise to all that is.”

But “all that is” would include the “something that exists eternally”, so this option can be ruled out, since it is logically impossible for something to give rise to itself.  However, I think Joe unintentionally incorrectly stated the third option.  Here is a revised version of the third option that avoids the logical contradiction of a self-caused being:

SEE: Something exists eternally that gives rise to everything else that has ever existed.

This is more like the language of traditional arguments for God, and I have no problem with the meaning or coherence of SEE (unless Hinman understands the meaning of this sentence in an odd and idiosyncratic way that is different than it would be understood in relation to traditional arguments for the existence of God).

I take it that the initial phrase “Something exists eternally” represents the meaning of the assertion that “an aspect of being is eternal” and that the remainder of the sentence (“that gives rise to everything else that has ever existed”) represents the meaning of “an aspect of being is necessary”.

The “something” here is clearly what Hinman will at some later point argue to be identical with “God”, but then it would follow logically that “God exists”, which is a statement that Hinman wishes to avoid asserting.  Perhaps he only avoids the expression “God exists” because of a concern that this statement, while being a true statement, would tend to be misunderstood in a way that the assertion “God is real” would not tend to be misunderstood (?).  But if Hinman actually rejects the claim “God exists”, then he cannot use SEE as part of his case, because in identifying “God” with the “something” that “exists eternally”, he will logically imply that “God exists” is a true statement.

The ordinary meaning of “exists eternally” is as follows:

X exists eternally IF AND ONLY IF  (a) X has always existed in the past,  and (b) X exists right now, and (c) X will always continue to exist in the future.

There is an indication in one of Hinman’s recent comments about his ABEAN argument, that he is using the phrase “exists eternally” in this ordinary sense of those words:

My point is some thing has to be eternal, the big bang is not eternal, it has a beginning…

The Big Bang is not eternal because “it has a beginning”.  In other words, the Big Bang did NOT always exist in the past, so the Big Bang is not something that exists eternally.

If Hinman is using the phrase “exists eternally” in the ordinary sense of that phrase, then I see a serious problem with his argument in support of ABEAN.  He has left out at least two other options:

Option 4: Something has always existed in the past prior to the beginning of the universe, caused the universe to begin to exist, then ceased to exist (at some later point in time in the past).

Option 5: Something has always existed in the past prior to the beginning of the universe, caused the universe to begin to exist, but will cease to exist either now or at some later point in time in the future.

Hinman’s argument is logically invalid, because it presents us with three alternatives, and eliminates two alternatives, leaving us with the conclusion that SEE is true, but there are more than just the three alternatives that Hinman’s argument presents, so we cannot logically conclude that the third alternative, SEE, is true.  Hinman’s argument for SEE is a false dilemma, or to be more precise, a false trilemma.

Hinman also appears to commit the same fallacy as Aquinas and Geisler in the sloppy use of the ambiguous word “something”.  SEE has at least two different meanings:

SEE1:  There is exactly one thing that exists eternally that gave rise to everything else that has ever existed.

SEE2:  There is at least one thing that exists eternally that gave rise to everything else that has ever existed.

Only SEE1 identifies a single thing, and thus only SEE1 can be used to point to a thing that could be identified with “the Ground of Being” or with “God”.  If there were many things that existed eternally, then we could not identify “the Ground of Being” or “God” with what exists eternally (unless we want to conceive of God as a collection or set of different things, but  I don’t think Hinman’s concept of God allows for God to be a collection or set of different things).

Once again, there appear to be more alternatives than just the five alternatives that we have mentioned so far.  Each alternative that begins with the word “something” must be clarified and turned into two separate alternatives.  Thus SEE must be clarified and turned into SEE1 and SEE2,  and Option 4 and Option 5 must also be clarified and turned into Options 4A, 4B, 5A, and 5B, so we are now up to a total of eight alternatives ( SFN, ICR, SEE1, SEE2, Option 4A, Option 4B, Option 5A, and Option 5C).  We are way beyond a trilemma at this point.

Let’s consider what Hinman has to say in an attempt to clarify what he means by saying that “an aspect of being is necessary”:

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BB:

What does it mean to say that an “aspect of being is necessary”?

Joe: 

In this case, that of ultimate origin. I see necessary more in terms of causality, whereas Necessary is usually taken to mean x is necessary iff x must exist in the same way in all possible worlds. Another way to say it, if it cannot cease or fail to exist. I think that is also true of God, God is necessary in that way. But in thinking about ultimate origins I think that there is another implication that being eternal God is uncased and thus not the product of any conditions prior to himself. Moreover, being the eternal aspect of  being God is in some sense the necessary condition upon which all contingencies depend. In this case being necessary is an implication of being eternal.

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Hinman says that “Another way to say it” is “if it cannot cease or fail to exist”.  This sounds like a definition:

X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF X cannot cease or fail to exist.

Previously, Hinman suggested that we understand the claim “An aspect of being is eternal” as meaning that “Something exists eternally”, so it seems reasonable to follow the same pattern and to understand the claim “An aspect of being is necessary” as meaning that “Something exists necessarily”.  Presumably, “X exists necessarily” means the same as “X is necessary”, so the above definition works for either phrase.  So, we have a series of expressions that have the same meaning:

Equivalence 1: “An aspect of being is necessary” means “Something exists necessarily”.

Equivalence 2: “Something exists necessarily” means “Something is necessary”.

Equivalence 3: “Something is necessary” means “Something cannot cease or fail to exist”.

From these three equivalences we may validly infer a fourth equivalence:

Equivalence 4: “An aspect of being is necessary” means “Something cannot cease or fail to exist”.

Hinman states that  “I think that there is another implication that being eternal God is uncased and thus not the product of any conditions prior to himself. … In this case being necessary is an implication of being eternal.”

But I don’t see how “being eternal” has any such implication.   Given the understanding that I have outlined of what it means to say that “X is eternal” and given the understanding that I have outlined of what it means to say that “X is necessary”, the claim that “X is necessary” does NOT follow logically from the claim “X is eternal”.

I take it that “X is eternal” means the same thing as “X exists eternally”, and my current understanding of the meaning of “X exists eternally ” is this:

X exists eternally IF AND ONLY IF  (a) X has always existed in the past,  and (b) X exists right now, and (c) X will always continue to exist in the future.

My current understanding of the meaning of “X is necessary” is this:

X is necessary IF AND ONLY IF X cannot cease or fail to exist.

Thus, if “X exists eternally” logically implied “X is necessary”, then the following inference would be logically valid:

(7) X has always existed in the past,  and X exists right now, and X will always continue to exist in the future.

THEREFORE:

(8) X cannot cease or fail to exist.

This inference, however, is logically INVALID.  The universe could, in theory, have always existed in the past, and exist right now, and always continue to exist in the future, even though the existence of the universe was contingent on God’s will that it exist.

Aquinas pointed out long ago that an eternal universe could be eternally dependent upon God, and thus even if the universe has always existed and continued to exist forever, the universe would remain contingent upon the will of God, and thus the universe CAN cease or fail to exist, namely IF God were to decide someday that it should cease to exist.  If God never in fact chooses to make the universe cease to exist, that would only make it a fact that the universe continues to exist forever, not a necessity that that universe continues to exist forever.

So, either Hinman is WRONG about his claim that “X is eternal” logically implies “X is necessary” or else he has some OTHER MEANING in mind for these expressions than what I have been able to discern so far.

In conclusion, I think I have a fairly good understanding of claims like “Something exists necessarily” and “Something exists eternally”.  So, if the somewhat perplexing expression “An aspect of being is necessary” simply means “Something exists necessarily” then I have no problem with understanding the former assertion.  Similarly, if the somewhat perplexing expression “An aspect of being is eternal” simply means “Something exists eternally”, then I have no problem understanding the former assertion.  But given the apparently invalid inference that Hinman makes, I’m not sure that he would accept these as equivalences, as statements having the same meaning.

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CORRECTION (6/27/17 at 8am):

Normally, when I find a mistake in my reasoning or a questionable factual claim in a post that I have recently published (say in the past 24 hours),  I just revise the post to fix the problem, and don’t bother to point out my error.   However, this post is a part of a debate with Joe Hinman, so I feel obliged to be more circumspect about making revisions to this post; hence this “correction” notice.

Above, I make this critical comment:

…so we are now up to a total of eight alternatives ( SFN, ICR, SEE1, SEE2, Option 4A, Option 4B, Option 5A, and Option 5C).  We are way beyond a trilemma at this point.

This comment is a conclusion based on a mistake in reasoning that I made.

I stand by the point that the word “something” is ambiguous and can mean either “at least one X”  or “exactly one X”.  However,  I was mistaken in treating these as two separate and independent possibilities.   The possibility that there is “at least one X” that is eternal includes the possibility that there is “exactly one X” that is eternal.  These two statements overlap in terms of possibilities.  Therefore, although the word “something” is ambiguous, if Hinman chooses to go with the broader sense of the word, i.e. “at least one X”,  then only five of the alternatives that I mention would be required to cover all of the possibilities, or at least all of the possibilities included in my list of eight alternatives (here are the five: SFN, ICR, SEE2, 4B, and 5B).

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