Archive for January, 2010

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God’s Necessity and the Universe’s Contingency (Part 2)

January 22, 2010

In Part 1 of this series I presented a novel argument developed by TaiChi that sought to demonstrate the inconsistency of the set consisting of the following propositions:

(P0) The universe is contingent.
(P1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.
(P2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.
(P4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.
(P5) God is essentially rational.
(P8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.

Future posts will explore the inferences of TaiChi’s argument.  For now I’ll evaluate the propositions.  Some of them are loaded with meaning, but I will attempt to be as concise as possible.

EVALUATION

“(P0) The universe is contingent.”

What does this mean?  It means that the very great number of things we encounter or observe regularly might not have existed at all: things like planets, plants, and people.  If the universe is taken to be the set of all these types of things, then the universe need not exist.  Another way of saying this is that it’s possible for the universe not to exist.  This statement seems intuitively true – I can affirm it.

“(P2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.”

I’ll address (P2) before (P1) since (P1) contains (P2).  Here I take TaiChi to be defining “sufficient reason”, and as such will deny (P2) because it is not a correct definition.  Put succinctly, the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) states that every contingent event must have an explanation (see here, here, and here for more on the PSR).  So for any contingent event E, there must be a reason (or explanation) for the event.  Another way of understanding the PSR is to state that events do not happen without a reason, or explanation.  But this has nothing to do with whether an agent has considered all things when acting.

Now even if TaiChi meant only to describe a type of sufficient reason, I doubt that this is one.  It seems like we can explain phenomena without considering all things.  Hazel could identify the explanation for why her key went in her car’s ignition switch (she put the key in it), without having to consider say, the process of binary fission (for perhaps she doesn’t even know what binary fission is).

We need to address a concept that is central to TaiChi’s argument, but which I find to be a miscategorization.  It is this: agents do not have sufficient reasons, so defined, to act.  Rather, agents simply have reasons for their actions.  No matter how many compelling reasons an agent may have for performing an act, the effect will not occur without the agent performing the act.  Therefore, the agent itself is at least part of the sufficient reason for the effect.  It should be clear then that when using the PSR, it’s inappropriate to say that agents have sufficient reasons to act.

“(P1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.”

It is difficult to evaluate (P1) once we have denied (P2).  Nevertheless, charitably we can offer the following modification:

“(P1*) God had an all-things-considered reason (or reasons) to create the universe as we know it.”

A typical theist affirms that God is omniscient.  As such, the theist will affirm that God is capable of considering all things.  The theist also will want to affirm that God created the universe as we know it for some reason, or possibly for multiple reasons.  So although I deny (P1), I can affirm (P1*).

“(P4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.”

I’m not sure if TaiChi intends to define irrational here or offer a type of irrational behavior, but I’ll assume it’s the latter. So if that’s the case, let’s adopt a common usage for “irrational”.  It means something like “not endowed with reason, or actions of an agent without such endowment”.  Given this definition, the problem I have with accepting (P4) is that it is possible, simultaneously, to have reasons not to act.  So although someone may have a reason for acting even after considering all things, still it could be rational not to act if you had reasons for not doing so.  But suppose we offer the following modification:

“(P4*) To have an all-things-considered reason to act such that one will act, and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.”

What can we say about having a reason to do X such that one will do X, and still refrain from doing X?  We wouldn’t say that is irrational, we would say it is impossible.  For it is not possible for someone to perform X and not perform X.  So (P4*) doesn’t seem coherent – let’s modify it:

“(P4**) To have an all-things-considered reason to act such one will act, and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is impossible.”

I can agree to this, but maybe I have changed it too much for TaiChi’s liking.  In any event, I’ll deny (P4), but can affirm (P4**).

“(P5) God is essentially rational.”

To say that rationality is essential to God is to say that He would not be God if He was not rational. Taken in this sense, I can affirm this statement.

“(P8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.”

It is impossible for God not to exist – I can affirm this.

CONCLUSION

Affirmed:   (P0) The universe is contingent.
Denied:     (P1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.
Denied:     (P2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.
Denied:     (P4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.
Affirmed:  (P5) God is essentially rational.
Affirmed:  (P8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.

I can affirm the following modified propositions:

Affirmed:  (P1*) God had an all-things-considered reason (or reasons) to create the universe as we know it.
Affirmed:  (P4**) To have an all-things-considered reason to act such that one will act, and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is impossible.

Before evaluating the inferences to his argument, I’ll offer TaiChi an opportunity to either maintain his propositions in their original formulations, explain them a little more (it’s possible I’ve misunderstood them), or modify them.  So there probably won’t be another post on this subject for at least a few more days.

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God’s Necessity and the Universe’s Contingency (Part 1)

January 19, 2010

Over at Common Sense Atheism, commenter “TaiChi” presented a case for the inconsistency of a set comprised of the following statements:

(P0) The universe is contingent.
(P1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.
(P2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.
(P4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.
(P5) God is essentially rational.
(P8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.

How is it that this set is inconsistent?  TaiChi presents the following argument using (P1), (P2), (P4), (P5), and (P8):

(P1) God had sufficient reason to create the universe as we know it.
(P2) A sufficient reason is an all-things-considered reason to perform one action over any other alternative.
(C3) So, when God created the universe, he had all-things considered reason to create the universe as we know it.  (From P1 and P2)
(P4) To have an all-things-considered reason to act and refrain from acting (or to perform some alternative action) is irrational.
(P5) God is essentially rational.
(C6) Then, God would not choose otherwise than to create the universe as we know it.  (From C3, P4, and P5)
(C7) So, in every possible world in which God exists, God does choose to create the universe as we know it.  (From C6)
(P8) God is necessary – he exists in every possible world.
(C9) So the universe is necessary.  (From C7 and P8)

Now clearly, on a common understanding of the terms “necessary” and “contingent”, (P0) and (C9) seem to be contradictory.  So to resolve the inconsistency of the set, one or more of the premises have to be jettisoned, or the inferences must be invalid.  This is what I’ll explore in future posts.