Monthly Archives: June 2013
One of my philosophical idols, Alexander Pruss, recently posted a brief but interesting deontic-ontological argument for God’s existence.
The argument runs:
- There ought to be a perfect being.
- What ought to be is possible. (Ought implies can.)
- If a perfect being is possible, there is a perfect being. (By S5 and as a perfect being is necessarily existent and essentially perfect.)
- So, there is a perfect being.
Essentially the argument makes use of the Kantian dictum that ought implies can in order to ground the possibility premise of the modal ontological argument — a brilliant method. However, it was noted by one of Pruss’s commentators that non-agential oughts are likely not applicable to the Kantian principle. Pruss confesses a similar worry. In the comments box attempts are made to justify a non-agential “ought implies can” dictum. I’m not sure if they are successful, but it is worth considering.
Here, I would like to borrow from Pruss’s insight and generate an agential version. But in so doing, I must also explain why I don’t think it is an utterly useless or question begging argument.
The argument would run as follows:
- I am aware of a duty such that I ought to unconditionally glorify, worship, and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation.
- If I ought to unconditionally glorify, worship, and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation, then it is possible for me to unconditionally glorify, worship and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation (ought implies can).
- If it is possible for me to unconditionally glorify, worship and offer gratitude on behalf of myself and creation, then it is possible that there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship and gratitude is due.
- If it is possible that there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship, and gratitude is due, then there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship, and gratitude are due (by S5 and as a perfect being is necessarily existent and essentially perfect).
- So, there is a perfect personal being to whom glory, worship, and gratitude are due.
A brief explanation: when examining my conscience, I genuinely perceive an obligation to glorify, worship, and express a deep sense of gratitude to… well, that which would be the appropriate recipient of such things. This perception is unqualified and without reservation. So it seems to me that this would only make sense if the “object” of such worship and gratitude were perfect. An imperfect being would only merit a conditional sort of praise and gratitude proportionate to its limited perfection and ability. It seems to me that gratitude can only be extended to persons. It makes little sense to be grateful to an impersonal thing since, whatever good it has brought about, the benefit it confers to me is only incidental. Furthermore, it seems to me that the possibility of fulfilling one’s duty to worship, etc. obtains in those worlds where the object of such devotions exist. So the possibility of worshipping God entails the possibility of God.
Now one might say that this argument is worthless, since it cannot convince anyone who does not share this deep conviction that there is a duty to worship. Most committed atheists would be happy to dispense with (1), if this felt duty is taken to imply the real possibility of fulfilling the duty. But I don’t think the argument should be construed as an apologetic tool. Rather, I see it as a way of grounding the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit — an argument by which the Christian can articulate, with some vigor, that this inner impression to worship and feel gratitude for existence does in fact testify to the existence of God, at least for those who perceive it. And perhaps, just perhaps, some atheists, upon reflection will realize a conviction to worship and be grateful. If so, then they may just consider whether this conviction is more than a fleeting “second-hand” emotion, but the promised testimony of the Holy Spirit, which speaks directly to our spirits (Rom 8:16). For, it is said that He guides us in truth (Jn 16:13). And as Christ prophesied, “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (Jn 16:14).
Here is my talk on the Moral Arguments. A few points were rushed towards the end. And I was getting a lot of audio in my headphones, which I should have muted because it distracted me. So apologies for that! Otherwise, I think it is a helpful summary of some of the major issues, as well as a brief introduction to my modalized version of the argument. I hope to take my modalized version of the argument to the next level by presenting it at some conferences, but it still needs some work.
This Sunday I will be on Good Reasons to Believe asking the question “Are Moral Arguments Any Good?”
In the show, I will develop a couple of versions of the moral argument, and assess whether I think they are ultimately successful. In particular, I will focus on the Kantian version of the argument, which may be less familiar to some. So tune in!
Details: the show streams through Ustream live (Sunday 6/9 4pm UK time, 11am EST, 10 am CST). You should be able to find the show through this link NCG Studios: The Place. See you there!!
P.S. If you miss the show, I’ll post the YouTube archive when it becomes available.
An Indispensability Argument for God’s Existence:
1. Whatever is indispensable in generating some theoretically insightful thought experiments must be admitted into our ontology.
2. A perfect being, or God, is indispensable in the generation of many theoretically insightful thought experiments across multiple disciplines.
3. Therefore, a perfect being must be admitted into our ontology.
I don’t think this argument works because (1) is too strong a claim. There are indispensable entities in many thought experiments, which we don’t admit into our ontologies, like frictionless planes and ideal gases. Nonetheless, those ideas are useful in many thought experiments. But why should they be so useful? I think it is because they substantively entail certain facts were they to actually obtain.
A Modest Indispensability Argument for God’s Existence:
1. Whatever is indispensable in generating some theoretically insightful thought experiments is logically possible (premise).
2. A perfect being, or God, is indispensable in generating some theoretically insightful thought experiments (premise).
3. Therefore, a perfect being is logically possible (From 1,2).
4. If a perfect being is logically possible, then a perfect being exists (by S5, given that a perfect being has necessary existence).
5. Therefore, a perfect being exists (From 3,4).
It seems to me that this argument is sound. An atheist might reject (1), but if something is logically impossible, it is hard to see why it would be theoretically indispensable, since it would entail anything. Impossible entities are, therefore, dispensable, since they function trivially in the thought experiment, and any impossible entity would function in the same way. So one impossible entity is no more indispensable than any other. What’s more, while impossibilities entail anything, we would find ourselves like Buridan’s ass, not directed by the concept itself in any particular way when thinking through the thought experiment. Rather, the direction would be determined by some sort of misapprehension of what a perfect being is–a misapprehension that oddly happens to be shared by every person who grasps the thought experiment. But then it is the “misapprehension” of a perfect being that is functioning indispensably, and we would have to see why it is the case that we are dealing with a misapprehension rather than the concept of a perfect being.
I think the atheist might be more successful in denying (2), by arguing that the idea of a perfect being is not actually integral to many thought experiments. Of course, this places a huge burden on the atheist of wading through thought experiments that make use of a perfect being, so as to demonstrate dispensability. Absent such a demonstration, it seems to me that thought experiments that make use of God do so in a substantive and indispensable manner. For as Voltaire says, “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer” (Epistle to the author of the book, The Three Impostors, 1768). Except, if it is necessary to invent God, then according to my reasoning, God is logically possible, and so actual.