Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 20: More on Argument #4

Kreeft’s Case for God – Part 20: More on Argument #4 March 18, 2018

THE INITIAL INFERENCE IN ARGUMENT #4

In Part 19,  I argued that the initial inference or sub-argument in Argument #4 (the Argument from Degrees of Perfection) of Peter Kreeft’s case for God is very unclear, and that based on my best guess at what the premises of that sub-argument mean, one premise begs the question at issue by assuming that God exists, and another premise is too vague to be useful in a proof of the existence of God.  So, Argument #4 is yet another FAILED argument in Kreeft’s case for God.

 

THE MIDDLE INFERENCE IN ARGUMENT #4

But the very unclear and very dubious initial inference in Argument #4 is not the only problem with that argument.  In Part 17, I analyzed the logical structure of Argument #4, and I pointed out that there was a completely UNSTATED sub-argument that is required to logically link the initial inference to the final inference in Argument #4, and this middle inference is as follows:

F. IF there exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

C. There exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being.

THEREFORE:

D. An absolutely perfect being exists.

 

THE MIDDLE INFERENCE IS UNCLEAR

There are, once again, problems of UNCLARITY in this sub-argument.  What is a “perfection”?  What are “perfections that pertain to being”?  What is an “absolutely perfect being”?  Kreeft does not define or clearly explain the meaning of any of these key terms in his argument.  He does briefly discuss “degrees of perfection” and provides some vague hints as to what he means by a “perfection” and by “perfections that pertain to being”, but he does not say enough to be able to infer what he means with any significant degree of confidence.  So, the main problem with this middle inference is the same as with the initial inference: it is VERY UNCLEAR.

 

PREMISE (C) IS DUBIOUS

However, I’m happy to make a best guess at what Kreeft’s premises mean, and evaluate this sub-argument based on my interpretation of the premises.  Premise (C) is dubious because it is based on the very UNCLEAR and apparently QUESTION BEGGING first inference.  So, (C) might well be false, which would make this middle sub-argument UNSOUND.

 

IS PREMISE (F) TRUE?

Let’s take a closer look at premise (F):

F. IF there exists a source and real standard of all the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

Given that the initial inference talks about perfection being “caused in” finite beings, the phrase “a source…of all the perfections” probably refers to a CAUSE “of all the perfections”.  Earlier in his presentation of Argument #4, Kreeft used an analogy with fire as a source of the heat in some objects:

…the degree of heat they possess is caused by a source outside of them. (HCA, p.54)

Fire, which is very hot, causes objects near it to become somewhat hot, or at least warm.  The idea that Kreeft hints at here is a general Principle Of Perfection:

(POP)  IF a being X causes perfection P in being Y, then being X has a greater degree of perfection P than Y.

This general Principle Of Perfection appears to be an assumption that underlies premise (F).  If this principle is false, then we have no good reason to believe premise (F).  But (POP) is clearly FALSE, so we have no good reason to believe (F) to be true.  Premise (F) is based on a FALSE assumption, so premise (F) is dubious, just like premise (C).

The main reason why (POP) is false is that a thing that lacks a property can, nevertheless, cause that property to occur in something else.  I can cause someone else to have a black eye and a bloody nose, even if I do not have a black eye or bloody nose myself.  I can cause a woman to become pregnant, even though I am not pregnant, and even though I cannot ever become pregnant.  I can make someone laugh, even if I am not laughing myself.

A football coach can cause a football player to become one of the best football players in the nation, even though the coach is (or would be) a mediocre football player at best.  There are many counterexamples to the idea that the CAUSE of a characteristic must possess that characteristic, and there are many counterexamples to the idea that the CAUSE of a perfection (i.e. a characteristic that makes something better than it would be without that characteristic) must possess that perfection to a greater degree than what it causes in something else.

This, however, is not the only problem with premise (F).  There is also an ambiguity of quantification in premise (F), similar to the ambiguity that Kreeft repeatedly stumbles over with the word “something”.  Here are two different interpretations of (F):

F1. IF there exists EXACTLY ONE BEING THAT IS THE CAUSE of all the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

F2. IF there exists AT LEAST ONE BEING THAT IS A CAUSE FOR EACH of  the perfections that pertain to being, THEN an absolutely perfect being exists.

Premise (F1) requires that premise (C) make a very strong claim, in order for (F1) and (C) to logically connect together to make a valid inference.  Premise (C) would have to assert the following very strong claim:

C1. There exists EXACTLY ONE BEING THAT IS THE CAUSE of all the perfections that pertain to being.

Premise (C) was already dubious to begin with, so if we now interpret (C) to mean what (C1) states, then it becomes even more obvious that Kreeft has FAILED to provide a good argument in support of (C), in the initial sub-argument.

On the other hand, premise (F2) does not require that premise (C) make such a strong claim.  If we go with interpretation (F2), then the middle sub-argument only needs the following claim to create a valid inference:

C2. There exists AT LEAST ONE BEING THAT IS A CAUSE FOR EACH OF the perfections that pertain to being.

But, the problem with (F2) is that it is clearly FALSE, which would make the middle sub-argument UNSOUND.  The antecedent of premise (F2), namely “there exists AT LEAST ONE BEING THAT IS A CAUSE FOR EACH of  the perfections that pertain to being”, is logically compatible with it being the case that there is a separate ultimate source for each perfection.

There could be a cause of intelligence, and a separate cause of the ability to give and receive love.  There could be one cause of beauty, and another cause of kindness, and a third cause of strength, and a fourth cause of wisdom.  If there were separate ultimate causes for each perfection, then there would be no necessity for there to be ONE BEING that possessed ALL perfections (or all perfections that pertain to being).  Therefore, the antecedent of (F2) does NOT entail the consequent of (F2), and thus premise (F2) is FALSE.

So, we must either adopt interpretation (F1) in which case it becomes very obvious that Kreeft has FAILED to show that (C) is true (i.e. that (C1) is true), or else adopt interpretation (F2) in which case it becomes clear that the middle sub-argument is UNSOUND, because (F2) is clearly FALSE.

 

CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE MIDDLE INFERENCE AND ARGUMENT #4

The middle inference or sub-argument in Argument #4 is based on two dubious premises: (C) and (F).

  • The meanings of key words and phrases in these premises are UNCLEAR.
  • Premise (C) is dubious because it is based on a BAD argument (i.e. the first inference of Argument #4).
  • Premise (F) is dubious because it is based on a FALSE assumption (i.e. POP).
  • Premise (F) is ambiguous in its quantification; on one interpretation (C) must make a very strong and very dubious claim, and on the other possible interpretation (F) is clearly FALSE.

The middle inference or sub-argument thus FAILS to provide a good reason for its conclusion, just like the initial inference or sub-argument FAILS to provide a good reason for its conclusion.  Thus, we may reasonably conclude that Argument #4 is a complete FAILURE.  This argument has multiple serious problems, and so it provides us no good reason to believe that God exists.

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