Monthly Archives: March 2014

While in Spain…

Dear Readers,

As some of you might know, I’ve moved to Spain with my wife.  She is directing the “En Madrid” program for Marquette University.  I am working on my dissertation and some assorted publications while attempting to learn Spanish.

Some great pictures from my wife, her students, and me are being posted here.  Follow along, and like some pictures.  We’re running a competition.  The two students with the most “likes” in a month win a gift card to a local “American Style” candy shop (my wife and I are not part of the competition, though you’ll find some of our pictures posted there).  The March contest is about to end, but a new one runs through April.  Help decide which pictures are the best!

My friend, Sergio, with whom I do an intercambio (hang out, eat, drink coffee, make grossly generalized commentaries on one another’s cultures, and practice speaking each other’s native language), is running a conference on Nietzsche.  The Conference runs April 2-4 at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.  More information can be found at the conference website:  I’m going to try my best to understand what is going on.  However, given that it will be continental philosophy in a language I am still learning, I might be just a little lost!

The Ontological Argument Revisited

(Image from

Here is an exposition of Anselm’s ontological argument. One premise is adapted from Zalta and Oppenheimer (1991) On the Logic of the Ontological Argument

However, Zalta and Oppenheimer are more concerned with arguing for an historically accurate version of the argument. They are convinced by Barnes that it is anachronistic to import contemporary modal notions into the argument. Instead, they offer an exposition that purports to infer God’s existence from God’s being. Though their argument is more simple, it involves a Meinongian interpretation of existential claims such that the existential quantifier needn’t imply existential import. My version aims to have many of the strengths that Zalta and Oppenheimer’s version has without the drawbacks of a)relying upon a Meinongian interpretation, or b) using existence as a predicate.

Note: I believe, like Zalta and Oppenheimer’s argument, that premise (2) can be used to derive God’s uniqueness. I am not sure if I can directly derive each of God’s perfections, as Zalta and Oppenheimer can using their version. That will be a future project. Also, while I use modal operators in the argument, I don’t really make use of many modal axioms to make inferences (aside from equivalency inferences). I make use of modal operators, rather, because my argument has the extremely interesting feature of deriving the necessary existence of the Anselmian God from a couple of modest premises. So the operators are their so as to track a key divine attribute Anselm claims to be able to derive from the proof. I believe the derivation of this attribute makes my version immune to Gaunilo-style parodies. That is, it shows that the Anselmian premises entail a necessarily existing being, and since islands, pizzas, and pencils are not metaphysically necessary, no object within the argument’s domain of discourse can satisfy the premises and also be contingent. Again, since this argument does not use existence as a predicate, it is immune to any Kantian objection. Finally, the argument does not illicitly move from conceivability to possibility, nor does it depend upon the S5 axiom of modal logic.

The argument is as follows:

1. Something is an Anselmian God if and only if it is conceivable but not necessarily conceived, necessarily exists, and nothing can be conceived of which is greater (definition).
2. There is something conceivable such that nothing can be conceived of which is greater (premise).
3. If the possibility of failing to conceive of x implies the possibility that x doesn’t exist, there is something conceivable that is greater than x (premise).
4. Therefore, an Anselmian God exists.

The deduction is as follows:


Cx – x is conceived
Gxy – x is greater than y
Θx – x is an Anselmian God

1. (∀x){Θx ≡ ([♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cx & ☐(∃z)(z=x)])} (definition)
2. (∃x)[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] (premise)
3. (∀x){[♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)] ⊃ [(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)]} (premise)
4. (∀x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (IP)
5. ♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy) (2 EI)
6. [♢~Cu ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=u)] ⊃ [(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy)] (3 UI)
7. [♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cu ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=u)] (4 UI)
8. ♢~Cu ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=u) (5,7 MP)
9. (∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy) (6,8 MP)
10. Gvu & ♢Cv (9 EI)
11. ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy) (5 Simp)
12. (∀y)~(Gyu & ♢Cy) (11 QN)
13. ~(Gvu & ♢Cv) (12 UI)
14. (Gvu & ♢Cv) & ~(Gvu & ♢Cv) (10,13 Conj)
15. ~(∀x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (4-14 IP)
16. (∃x)~{[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] ⊃ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (15 QN)
17. (∃x) ~{~[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] ∨ [♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (16 Impl)​
18. (∃x){~~[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] & ~[♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (17 DeM)
19. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] & ~[♢~Cx ⊃ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (18 DN)
20. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] & ~[~♢~Cx ∨ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (19 Impl)
21. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] & ~[☐Cx ∨ ♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (20 ME)
22. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cx & ~♢~(∃z)(z=x)]} (21 DeM)
23. (∃x){[♢Cx & ~(∃y)(Gyx & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cx & ☐(∃z)(z=x)]} (22 ME)
24. [♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cu & ☐(∃z)(z=u)] (23 EI)
25. {Θu ≡ ([♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cu & ☐(∃z)(z=u)])} (1 UI)
26. {Θu ⊃ ([♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cu & ☐(∃z)(z=u)])} & {([♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cu & ☐(∃z)(z=u)]) ⊃ Θu } (1 Equiv)
27. [♢Cu & ~(∃y)(Gyu & ♢Cy)] & [~☐Cu & ☐(∃z)(z=u)] ⊃ Θu (26 Simp)
28. Θu (24,27 MP)
29. (∃x)Θx (28 EG)

An Argument Against Naturalism from Abstract Objects

Some naturalists, like Quine, feel compelled to admit abstract objects, like numbers, sets, and propositions, into their ontology. But I’ve always had the sense that abstract objects are incompatible with naturalism. Here I will lay out some premises about abstract objects and naturalism that appear fairly intuitive to me. I will then represent those premises in logical notation, and demonstrate that they do, indeed, serve as a defeater for naturalism.

1. If a thing1 is natural then it is possibly not the case that there exists a thing2 where thing2 is natural and identical to thing1.

In other words, if a think is natural, then it possibly doesn’t exist.

2. There exists some proposition such that necessarily that proposition is true.

For example, the mathematical proposition ‘2 + 3 = 5’ is necessarily true and cannot be false.

3. For all propositions, necessarily, if a proposition is true, then there exists some thing1 such that thing1 is abstract and thing1 is identical to that proposition.

This is just to say that it is necessary that if a proposition is true, then it is an existing abstract object. After all, it would seem odd to predicate a truth-value to a proposition, but deny that said proposition doesn’t exist.

4. If there exists a proposition that is necessarily true, and everything is natural, then for all proposition, necessarily, if there exists a thing1 that is an abstract object identical to that proposition, then there exists a natural thing2 identical to that proposition.

I defend this premise on the grounds that, if a proposition is natural, then in every world where it obtains, it obtains as a natural proposition. That is, if ‘natural’ is predicated of a proposition, it is essentially predicated of it, which is to say that in every world where that proposition exists, it exists as a natural object.

From these four premise, we can conclude that naturalism, which I take to be the claim that everything is natural, is false.

The deduction is as follows:

Nx – x is natural
Tp – p is true
Ax – x is an abstract object

1. (∀x){Nx ⊃ ♢~(∃y)[Ny & (y=x)]} (premise)
2. (∃p)☐Tp (premise)
3. (∀p)☐[(Tp ⊃ (∃x)(Ax & (x=p))] (premise)
4. (∃p)(☐Tp & (∀x)Nx) ⊃ (∀p)☐{(∃x)[Ax & (x=p)] ⊃ (∃y)[Ny & (y=p)]} (premise)
5. (∀p)☐{(∃x)[Ax & (x=p)] ⊃ (∃y)[Ny & (y=p)]} (IP)
6. ☐Tu (2 EI)
7. ☐[(Tu ⊃ (∃x)(Ax & (x=u))] (3 UI)
8. ☐(∃x)(Ax & (x=u) (6,7 MMP)
9. ☐{(∃x)[Ax & (x=u)] ⊃ (∃y)[Ny & (y=u)]} (5, UI)
10. ☐(∃y)[Ny & (y=u)] (8,9 MMP)
11. (∃y)[Ny & (y=u)] (10 NE)
12. Nv & (v=u) (11 EI)
13. Nv ⊃ ♢~(∃y)[Ny & (y=v)] (1 UI)
14. Nv (12 Simp)
15. ♢~(∃y)[Ny & (y=v)] (13,14 MP)
16. (v=u) (12 Simp)
17. ♢~(∃y)[Ny & (y=u)] (15,16 ID)
18. ~☐(∃y)[Ny & (y=u)] (17 MN)
19. ☐(∃y)[Ny & (y=u)] & ~☐(∃y)[Ny & (y=u)] (10,18 Conj)
20. ~(∀p)☐{(∃x)[Ax & (x=p)] ⊃ (∃y)[Ny & (y=p)]} (IP 5-19)
21. ~(∃p)(☐Tp & (∀x)Nx) (4,20 MT)
22. (∀p)~(☐Tp & (∀x)Nx) (21, QN)
23. ☐Tu (2 EI)
24. ~(☐Tu & (∀x)Nx) (22 UI)
25. ~☐Tu ∨ ~(∀x)Nx (24 DeM)
26. ~~☐Tu (23 DN)
27. ~(∀x)Nx (25,26 DS)
28. (∃x)~Nx (27 QN)

Line 28 is our conclusion, namely that something exists that is not natural. I take this to be incompatible with naturalism. Therefore, I take the existence of abstract objects, like propositions, to be a defeater for naturalism. I suspect that the naturalist will take issue with one or more of the premises, but at a cost. Likely (4) will require the most defending. Again, (4) says that, given naturalism and the existence of necessary truths, it is necessarily the case that if a proposition exists as an abstract object, it will exist as a natural object. If one denies this, then it would seem possible that an abstract object be natural and possibly not natural. But then in what way is it the same sort of thing? It seems odd to me that a proposition is a natural thing in this world, but a non-natural thing in other possible worlds. For it seems to me that the property of being natural is an essential property. If something is natural, it is necessary that it is natural. Thus, if naturalism is true, then all abstract objects are natural and essentially natural. But our argument shows, by indirect proof, that it is possible for there to exist an abstract object that is not natural. Giving up on (4) entails that ‘natural’ is non-essential to some things, and I find that to be implausible.

(My thanks to Skepticism First on Twitter, who dialogued with me on this argument and pushed me in some new directions)

A Response to Schieber’s Problem of Non-God Objects

The problem of non-God objects is an argument against the Anselmian conception of God, i.e. that being than which none greater can be conceived. Given the target, if the argument were successful, it would provide a decisive reason to be an atheist. The argument, devised by Justin Schieber, runs as follows:

P1: If the Christian God exists, then GodWorld is the unique best possible world.
P2: If GodWorld is the unique best possible world, then the Christian God would maintain GodWorld.
P3: GodWorld is false because the Universe (or any non-God object) exists.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Christian God, as so defined, does not exist.1

The argument is formally valid, so if the premises are true, I think we ought to accept the conclusion. What’s more, P2 and P3 are relatively uncontroversial. It is quite obvious that this world is not GodWorld, i.e. the null world where only God exists. One might try some sort of pantheistic escape, but since pantheism is contrary to orthodox Christianity, such a route concedes the debate. Furthermore, the Christian is committed to the existence of non-God objects. Unless it is logically impossible for God to maintain GodWorld, P2 seems to be true. I can think of no reason to think that God would not be able to maintain GodWorld. And if there is a singular best possible world, it seems a maximally great God ought to preserve it.

Contrary to the implications of this argument, Catholics theology teaches that creation is a gratuitous act. God could have decided not to create anything. This suggests that Catholics are committed to the possibility that God could have maintained GodWorld. But in suggesting that God could have acted otherwise, the Catholic is also committed to the position that nothing in God’s nature would have prevented him from bringing about an alternative reality from GodWorld. If we spend some time considering how this could be, I suspect that we will come to a better understanding of why P1 of Schieber’s argument is not sufficiently justified.

Iron Chariots explicates the argument, and this seems consistent with the way Schieber presents the argument in his debate with Max Andrews. So I will go with their explication for the time being. Iron Chariots writes:

If God exists, he is an ontologically perfect being – meaning he has those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lesser degree. A world comprised of only the maximally-great being for eternity would be a world comprised of all those great-making properties to their maximal compossible degrees and no such properties to any lesser degree. Unless there is some source of unique Goodness – Goodness that exists outside of and fully independent of God, GodWorld must be the unique best possible world. GodWorld eternally sustains the highest overall ontological purity and, therefore, overall ontological quality to which no other world can compare, therefore it is the unique best possible world.2

I agree that if God exists, God is an ontologically (and morally) perfect being. We might dispute the idea that God “has” great-making properties. For the Thomist, God is identical to God’s attributes, and those attributes are identical with one another. God’s goodness is identical to God’s omnipotence. So Schieber’s understanding of ontological perfection is more in line with the contemporary metaphysics of a certain group of evangelical Christian analytic philosophers as opposed to Anselm and Aquinas, who strongly affirm the doctrine of divine simplicity. And I think a good deal of this argument hinges on contemporary analytic metaphysics, so it is worth noting that God is already conceived of as a complex of great-making properties—a complex whose purity can be threatened and altered in some way. Thus the God described in this argument seems to lack genuine (libertarian) freedom, immutability, and simplicity.

Another aspect of this argument that seems to presume contemporary metaphysics, according to this argument “GodWorld” would be comprised of all the great-making properties to their maximal compossible degree and no such property to any lesser degree. However, it isn’t really clear whether and how possible-worlds receive their predicates. And this will be the crux of my criticism of Schieber’s argument. While I think the semantics of possible-worlds is a helpful way of thinking about modality, it raises some thorny metaphysics questions and may even contain some outright presumptions. I will develop my objection as a trilemma: either GodWorld has the ontological status to be the subject of predication, or it does not. If it has the ontological status to be the subject of predication, then either it has the same predicates as God or it does not.

Let’s consider the first horn, that God has the ontological status to be the subject of predication. For this appears to be Schieber’s position. He wants to predicate “unique best possible world” and “highest purity” of GodWorld. And it seems he does so on the grounds that GodWorld, itself, is comprised of God’s great-making properties. Let’s suppose that this means that GodWorld has the same properties as God (the first horn of our second dilemma). This is to treat the relationship between the predicates of an object in a world as transitive to the world in which that object obtains. That is, God has great-making properties, GodWorld has God, therefore GodWorld has great-making properties. There are prima facie reasons a Christian would find this metaphysical position problematic, since God is not just that than which none greater can be conceived, but also that than which a greater cannot be conceived (Proslogion XV). If great-making properties are transitively predicated to GodWorld from God, then something must be conceived to be as great as the Anselmian God. And so conceiving of both is surely greater than conceiving of God alone. This means that the admission of the metaphysics and the transitivity of properties renders Anselm’s God incoherent. But before the atheologian claims victory through insisting on this view of possible worlds, we must consider it more closely. First, we must be cautious that we don’t commit the fallacy of composition, i.e. that the world has the properties of the beings that occupy the world. God is omnipotent, but is GodWorld omnipotent? We have no reason to think so. God is omniscient, is GodWorld? The world itself doesn’t seem to have powers or knowledge. It seems to be a category mistake to think the world has such abilities simply because its singular occupant has those abilities. This seems highly implausible to me.

Consider, then, the alternative possibility that GodWorld has the appropriate ontological status to be the subject of predication, e.g. ‘the unique best possible world’, but those predicates are not the same as God’s great-making predicates. This seems more plausible than the first alternative that we’ve considered, since God does not have a great-making property of being the “unique best possible world”, and GodWorld doesn’t, itself, seem to be omniscient. They seem to have different properties. Further, we might say that GodWorld is being predicated with some degree of purity on the basis of the quantity and quality of non-divine great-making qualities are predicated of the entities that exist. On this interpretation, there are at least two real things that are ontologically sufficient to receive predication in GodWorld, namely God and GodWorld itself. It seems that Schieber does not seem to think that the purity of God’s great-making properties are made impure by the existence of another thing with other properties God lacks. Now Schieber might say that he never intended GodWorld to be absolutely pure in terms of divine great-making properties, but that it is the world with the “highest purity.” But it is not really clear how we are to assess the level of purity viz-a-viz other worlds. More to it, it is not clear that the world with the highest level of purity of compossible and maximized great-making properties must be deemed to be the “uniquely best”. Ironically, “world with highest purity of great-making properties” is a predicate said of GodWorld and not God, it is not a divine great-making property and so an awkward instance of adulteration. It is especially awkward since what makes GodWorld the “uniquely best” is that it is predicated with a property that God lacks, namely the property of “being the world with the highest amount of purity”. If so, having a non-divine property is a necessary condition for being defined as “uniquely best”. In other words, what makes GodWorld the “uniquely best world” is, among other things, an impurity! This seems counterintuitive, if Schieber is arguing that impurity makes a world less good than it would be without the impurity. What’s more, it might not be the case that GodWorld has less of these compossible maximal great-making properties than other worlds. For instance, GodWorld would have the property of belonging to {GodWorld}, but God wouldn’t have that property. It would also, presumably, have the property of being a world, while God is not a world. Furthermore, it stands to reason that GodWorld might be inhabited by abstract objects non-identical to God and lacking in great-making properties. For if GodWorld is the “unique best” world and God is the only individual, we seem to have an instance of one, and two. It is not hard to generate and define all of the natural numbers within such a world. So Schieber may have to argue against mathematical realism, and even against the mathematical properties that threaten to obtain in GodWorld. For such a world will quickly have an infinitude of properties, like oddness, evenness, and other such mathematical features that belong exclusive to numbers. So while GodWorld might have only one concrete entity, it may have an infinity of abstract objects and an infinity of non-great making properties that obtain within it. This is a damning problem for Schieber’s argument, as far as I can tell.  If GodWorld has an infinity of non-great-making properties, GodWorld is at least as adulterated as some other possible worlds.  And if so, Schieber’s thought experiment fails.

Now keep in mind, this does not mean that GodWorld is infinitely bad. An impurity doesn’t have to be an evil, it just has to be a property that isn’t a maximized great-making property. Perhaps all worlds do, and so God is free from needing to avoid the introduction of more impurities, since any finite addition would not be more. Schieber may want to stipulate that the impure properties of abstract objects don’t count, but such a move seems ad hoc and needs independent justification.

Also, It seems that Schieber’s calculus is too narrow for considering which world would be best. Schieber does anticipate this objection in his debate with Andrews. Schieber considers the Christian who might say that God isn’t interested in purity, but maximizing the amount of goods in the world. He notes that manufacturers don’t think it is wise to sacrifice quality for quantity, nor do people tend to want more trivial relationships rather than a few high quality relationships. But a few examples where one wouldn’t sacrifice quality for quantity won’t really suffice to prove the universal. Cases are complex, and it is sometimes preferable to sacrifice quality for quantity. For a real world example, consider friendship. We value our best friends most of all. Aristotle says that goodness is the object of perfect friendship and one desires the good of the other. But does this mean that having lesser sorts of friends diminishes one’s quality of life? It is practically impossible to have a large quantity of perfect friendships, and only a few suffice for achieving the good life. But supplementing perfect friendship with friends of pleasure and utility is not necessarily detrimental or counterproductive towards human flourishing. So a mixture of different kinds of friends could be as good, or even better than maintaining just a few perfect friendships. Also, consider a piece of music. One might think that harmony is a great-making quality of a score, and discord, silent pauses, etc. are not instances of such harmony. Nonetheless, while some of the greatest pieces of music are entirely filled with harmonies, there are some scores that are equally great, though they are adulterated with moments of jarring discord and abrupt silence. We might also consider a man who is about to buy his fiancée a diamond engagement ring. The man has a budget of $5,000 and is surprised to discover how many different sorts of diamonds he might purchase. Some have a high degree of clarity (purity if you like), but the carat size is smaller than some other stone. Some stones are colorless, others are blue, and still others tend toward yellow. The stones are cut in different ways too. The asher-cut looks almost like a water droplet, while the princess-cut shimmers like fire. This solitary has 57 cuts, that one 55, etc. The man might not be indifferent to which diamond he prefers (or thinks his fiancée would prefer), though he is willing to concede that any diamond he purchases will cost $5,000. Each has the same objective worth, and perhaps he will prefer the flawless diamonds, though they are tiny. Perhaps he will prefer a larger carat and accept a color shade less than D because he wants a dazzling cut. Perhaps he would prefer a yellow diamond because yellow is his fiancée’s favorite color. At the end of the day, it is his free choice, and he will make that choice based on many factors that are both objective and subjective. Perhaps it is the same with God. He could choose GodWorld, with whatever (perhaps infinite) impurities found there. Or God might be willing to create non-God objects, adding a finite sum of impurities to whatever impurities exist in GodWorld. Perhaps those additions are counterbalanced by the other quantities and qualities of goods added. Perhaps it is a zero-sum game, i.e. the additional impurity is balanced against the additional finite goods the object brings to the table such that GodWorld is objectively great as any of a variety of worlds possible for God to select. I think this would have to be case, at least from God’s perspective, if we are to believe that God has freedom. And I think we should think that God has freedom, since that is a traditional attribute ascribed to the Christian God, and it seems to be a great-making property, if it is at all possible, or compossible with God’s other attributes. Schieber’s version of God must maintain GodWorld, and so is not free to act otherwise. This is consistent with the Leibnizian God who was only free in the compatiblist sense that he was not compelled by anyone else to create the best possible world. Nonetheless, God’s nature necessitates the actualization of the best possible world, which raises the question of whether there really are any other possible worlds. For if it is not possible for a world to actualize itself, and God can only actualize the best possible world, then it is impossible that any other world should come into existence.

Perhaps Schieber would like to avoid the messy metaphysical exposition of how worlds receive their predicates, and instead opt for a sort of “anti-realist” position with respect to possible-worlds, i.e. worlds do not have the sort of ontological status that would allow one to genuinely predicate anything of them. So there really isn’t a “uniquely best” possible world. A world is some sort of group-fiction that we use to lump together various propositions that might obtain. There are no “worlds” that can be said to be good bad, best, or worst. Rather there are various sorts of beings that may or may not exist together. But then the question of purity is more difficult to explain, since purity was something that was being said of worlds. Surely the existence of a finite good, like a human, has no effect on the immutable nature of God. They are separate beings with distinct natures and attributes.

In fact, on a Thomistic reading, the way in which God is said to be Good is not equivalent to the way we are said to be good. They are not just different in terms of levels of purity, or quantity. They are as different as a cause is from the effect. There is a relationship between the two, as they are said to be analogous. One might compare this to the Aristotelian example of analogy where health is said of medicine, which is the cause of health, of walking, of a book on the topic of health, of certain foods, and of human beings, where health may be the effect of a good diet, exercise, medicine, and knowledge. In the Thomistic understanding, Goodness is convertible with Being. And this helpful when we are trying to understand how God is a different kind of Goodness than everything else. For God is Being itself, or essentially being, while everything else is a being and only accidentally being. So God is essentially Good and Goodness itself, while everything else is good insofar as its nature is perfected, or actualized. Thomas argues that the good is that which is desirable. And what is desirable for any given thing is the full actualization of its essence. Since God is pure actuality, and the omnipotent cause of all other things, God brings about the good in things. In lacking nothing, God is fully actual and perfect, and so perfectly Good. In being the cause of actuality in everything else, God is the ultimate Good for all created things. Created things are said to be good insofar as they are made more perfect by Goodness itself. And God is more properly Goodness insofar as God is the cause of the goodness in everything else. For example, moral goodness is part of the essence of humans and it is good insofar as our will is sustained in existence by God and properly ordered to goodness as it is found in reality. The point is that these are very different kinds of goodness. In effect, the great-making properties of humans are quite distinct from the so-called divine great-making properties, if we can even speak of divine properties (given the doctrine of divine simplicity). And my limited and corrupted great-making properties do not make God any less God. It does not affect God’s essence as pure actuality. So God does not become impure by creating things that are not purely good. And it is impossible to create another being that is purely good, i.e. perfect or purely actual. For such a being moved from potency to actuality, and so would not possess actuality essentially, but only accidentally. Whatever is accidental can be lost. So God cannot create God. This makes sense, since God is non-contingent, and a created thing is contingent by definition. Typically it is not required that omnipotent beings should be able to do the logically impossible. So then purity does not become the issue of Schieber’s argument, rather it is a question of God’s goodness. Why would a good God actualize anything if he cannot make actual another instance of pure actuality? Why make things that are only accidentally good, accidentally existing? But then Schieber’s God is a funny sort of omnipotent being. For he cannot actually bring anything about, and only participates in the love that exists between the persons of the Trinity, which is eternal and uncreated.

But again, I think the answer is to realize that there is a difference in kind when speaking of God’s goodness and the goodness of created things. When God creates, God does not alter His own nature, so he is not perfecting himself. I think it is for this reason that the null-world, where God chooses not to create, is a possible alternative to one where God chooses to create. For, when he chooses to create, he is not bringing about additional goodness in his own nature, but creaturely goodness. His relationship to creation is, rather, one of grace. I think we find ourselves in this sort of world because God has the personality of an artist, a creator. He isn’t morally obligated to be a creator, nor is he forbidden. His creation is itself a finite good, a reflection of His Goodness. But, just as a reflective surface does not generate light, this additional creaturely goodness does not generate more of God’s goodness. Likewise, even the most perfect mirror degrades the light it reflects, but it does not dim or degrade the source of light in being an imperfect reflector. So why think the introduction of creaturey goods adulterates God’s goodness.  Perhaps creaturely goodness cancels itself out, as I have suggested, a zero-sum game or just a case of adding a finite sum to an already existing infinity of impure properties. God could have existed by himself for all of eternity, or he could have created some finite goods. Let’s take the Anselmian insight seriously, that God is that than which none greater can be conceived. If so, conceiving of everything in the world and God is not greater than conceiving of God alone. The finite goodness of the world does not quantitatively add anything when conjoined to the concept of God. Why think that it should diminish the concept of God?  In fact, a God that can be so easily diminished is less great than the immutable God of classical theism (at least it seems so to me).

In effect, Schieber argues that it is greater to conceive of a God that is not free to create non-God objects than to conceive of a God that freely creates non-God objects. He does so on the basis of purity. I have given reason to think that absolute purity is impossible, once we consider the ontological status of the world, or difficult to assess if we do not predicate anything of worlds. Instead, I offer what I take to be an orthodox Catholic position. God is free to create or not create. But in choosing to create, God does not diminish his own nature, for God is immutable. Pure actuality has no potential to be diminished. Further, it is not clear that the additional greatness, finitude, impurity, and evil found in the world balances out such that this world is objectively as good to create as maintaining GodWorld. If so, God may have subjective reasons for producing this world over others. Those reasons might not make this world objectively better than GodWorld, just subjectively preferred by God’s personalities in the way I might prefer a science-fiction novel to a romance. I can have such a preference while genuinely considering both novels as good enough to read.

I fear that this response has been a bit long-winded. Unfortunately, I think an adequate response to Schieber’s argument involves raising some difficult metaphysical questions, which is my backhanded way of saying that I think it is a philosophically interesting argument. I think I’ve raised some of those questions here, and provided at least some reason to think that the answers to those questions would strongly count against Schieber’s argument. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to think through all of this, and it is yet another example of what I call, “the indispensability of God.” I’ve argued elsewhere that the concept of the Anselmian God is a philosophically fruitful concept. It is by thinking through this concept that philosophers and theologians have devised many useful concepts, from the relationship between grace and mercy, to the nature of forgiveness, to the concept of personhood, to new theories in identity theory that seek to reconcile paradoxes in the Trinity. Schieber has attempted to explicate exactly what the God-concept entails, and he has done so through unpacking precisely what God’s properties are said to be. I take this as prima facie evidence that the concept of the Anselmian God is self-consistent, and so logically possible. And since the Anselmian God, if possible, necessarily exists, I think Schieber has given us a performative reason to think God is coherent, and so exists. The warrant for his premises were always rooted in the nature of the Anselmian God. He did not once appeal to, say, the principle of explosion, or contradiction so as to derive any entailments. You’d expect that he would, if the God concept were a mere absurdity. It isn’t, God exists.

1”The problem of non-God objects” in Iron Chariots. Retrieved March 22, 2014.

[Edit on March 29, 2014 with a clarification on why the transitivity of great-making properties to GodWorld is incompatible with the Anselmian God]

Dawkins’ Central Argument

Somehow, I feel like I am beating a putrefied horse at this point. But I’ve had a few people challenge me on Dawkins and his central argument in the God Delusion So, I’ve decided it’s time to do analysis of Dawkins’ central argument. Here is (187-189 of my 2008 edition of the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect… has been to explain how the improbable appearance of design in the universe arise.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same logic to an eye or a wing, a spider, or a person.

3. The temptation is a false one, because the design hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable. We need a ‘crane,’ not a ‘skyhook,’ for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity.

4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that — an illusion.

5. We don’t yet have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as Darwinism does for biology. This kind of explanation is superficially less satisfying than the biological version of Darwinism, because it makes heavier demands on luck. But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.

6. We should not give up hope for a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle, self-evidently better than self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an intelligent designer.

Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

My critique is as follows:

(1) it should be noted that premises (1)-(6) do not validly lead to the conclusion that God almost certainly does not exist. No rule of logic of which I am aware could get us to the conclusion. And this is despite the fact that Dawkins loads entire paragraphs into each premise. He can’t quite make valid connections between the premises, and several of the premises are not doing any work at all in the argument. For instance (1) is a prefatory remark more than a proper premise. (5) is simply an admission of ignorance, and (6) turns that admission if ignorance into an ad ignorantam fallacy by suggesting that an unknown crane explanation is preferable to the alternatives. To put it simply, all six premises could be true, and God could still exist. This is because Dawkins needs to argue not merely that crane explanations are needed or hoped for, but that they are the only game in town. I think this is where he wants to go, but asserting that is essentially begging the question. This leads to my next point…

(2) The argument hinges on a false dichotomy between reductive crane explanations, and skyhooks, which he defines as “magic spells” (99). Dawkins practically stipulates his way to victory on this point by telling his audience that crane explanations are the sort of explanations that actually explain things (Ibid.). So presumably out of the dichotomy between skyhooks and cranes, we are left with only reductive crane explanations, if we want any explanations at all. Of course, there is very little argumentation for there only being two sorts of explanation, and absolutely no argument for why God is a skyhook explanation. But, I think there are some non-reductive explanations that at least claim to explain. For instance, many physicalists will insist that they can offer a non-reductive explanation how consciousness supervenes on the brain. This would not be a simple to complex explanation, for then the physicalist would be stuck with a reductive theory. So Dawkins’ argument hinges on the failure of supervenience as a non-reductive explanation of consciousness (presumably the failure of any supervening explanation whatsoever). Other candidates for non-reductive non-magic spell explanations would include agent causation, and formal causation. One might be skeptical of all this, but the broader point is that Dawkins never proves that only cranes are true explanations, he borrows this from a reductionistic philosopher, Daniel Dennett, and asserts it in the middle of his argument as if it were uncontroversial. Of course, if we accept, without argument, that reductive crane explanations are the only explanations, then we have begged the argument away from God, for any sort of reductive monism is incompatible with theism to begin with. Not that all atheists accept crane explanations alone, but only atheists would accept crane explanations alone.

(3) Dawkins says that any design inference raises a larger problem of who designed the designer. The problem is that neither his atheistic world-view, nor the theistic world-view would insist that every designer was designed. He freely admits that the creator of the watch, the watchmaker, was a person who was not designed. Likewise, the theist holds that God is eternal and uncaused, so without the need for design. So no one seems to actually hold to an “all designers need designers” thesis. Some theists, not all, might argue that the watchmaker needs a designer, but not in virtue of being a designer, but in virtue of being created or contingent. So the question would be whether the need for a designer in the case of the watchmaker transfers over to a God. However, theists reason that God is not a contingent biological life form, so the analogy breaks down.

(4) Dawkins also says that it is no solution (explanation?) to the probability of x, if y must be postulated to explain x, and y is even more improbable than x. But, he has given us no reason to think God is more improbable than the universe. He merely hints that this is what we should think. But isn’t the conclusion that God is improbable? That’s what I take “almost certainly doesn’t exist” to mean. So once again, Dawkins is vague enough that the argument is a non sequitur, but if you fill in the gaps, it’s implicitly question begging. An alternative is that a highly improbable event x might raise the probability of y as the explanation. We simply cannot know. But the answer is going to look like something more akin to Bayes’ formula than Dawkins’ sloppy and vague assertions.

In summary: Dawkins’ central argument is invalid, several premises do no work, and the crucial premises only do some work if we make certain question begging assumptions.

A Dialogue on Reblogging

A: Fancy meeting you here.

B: Oh, how are you?

A: I’m well.  Just contemplating existence, as I am prone to do.  How are you?

B: Fine thank you! What about existence are you contemplating?

A: Well, where do you suppose we came from? I think we are two characters created by a mind external to this blog post.

B: What an extraordinary hypothesis.  But it’s absolutely gratuitous.  My only experience is of the items within a blog: texts, some pictures and videos, a few links.  Did you know that the latest science suggests that our blog is a WordPress blog?

A: I don’t really keep up with the latest science, so no.  But what is so special about WordPress blogs?

B:  My dear friend, the latest in WordPress blog cosmology reveals that a post can quite easily come into existence from an entirely separate blog.  The process is known as “reblogging” and it is entirely consistent with the laws of the WordPress program.  No external intelligence is needed.

A:  Well, it seems to me that programs need programmers. And blogs need bloggers.  So you are saying that this post might have been reblogged from some other blog I’ve never even observed before and that explains where this post came from?

B:  Yes, we have not directly observed other blogs, but we know enough about our own blog, and the WordPress program that we can infer the existence of countless other blogs.  So this post, perhaps even our entire blog is just the reblogging of some other blog, or perhaps an ensemble of blogs, perhaps an infinity of them!

A:  Well then, where did those other blogs get their content from?

B: It’s possible that this process has been going on forever.  There were no first posts.  Every post is just reblogged from somewhere else. Another possibility is that there is a cyclical model of reblogging.  This blog has reblogged itself from some other blog, and that blog from still another blog, but that third blog has reblogged its content from the old archives of our blog.

A:  But where did the content come from.  That doesn’t explain anything!

B:  Why not?

A:  Reblogging doesn’t genuinely bring any content into existence, it merely passes the information along.  There must have been a first author in order for there to be a series of reblogs.  This doesn’t explain the origin of the content even if the content happened to have been rebloged.

B: Sure it does, if each prior blogpost explains the existence of the subsequent reblogged post, then all the members within the regress of posts are explained.  We don’t need an explanation on top of that.

A: I’m sorry, but my intuition tells me that “reblogging” is not an ultimate explanation.  It might explain how a post ended up on this blog, but it does not tell us why the post exists in the first place.

B: Why questions are silly questions!  When you ask “why” you assume that there is some purpose for the existence of the post.  That’s fallacious.

A: Well, there seems to be some sort of purpose to this post.  Doesn’t it seem that way to you?  Or are you some sort of nihilist?

B:  The post itself has no purpose.  We make our own purposes, my dear friend.  Meaning and purpose is subjective.  But there is no objective purpose to this post.  Just look around you.  The typos, the grammatical errors.  Does this look like the work of some intelligent author?

A: But the post seems to have content, and information that seems so well designed in many other respects.  The occasional error doesn’t undermine the fact that there seems to be something mental about us.  If there is something mental, that is, intentional about us, I suspect that we would have to be the product of a mind. Don’t you think there must be something external to us that allows us to act with intentions and purposes?  I mean, if this is all just some random event, why should everything behave so orderly?  Why does our conversation convey meaning? Sure, there are errors here and there, but how does reblogging offer a better explanation?

B: Selection, my dear friend.  Blog posts that are disordered tend not to be reblogged.  It’s not surprising that, over time, only orderly blog posts survive.

A: Look, I am sure that selection can work hand in hand with the existence of authors.  I think authors are involved in the process of reblogging.  They select the posts they want reblogged.  It’s not just arbitrary.  Furthermore, I think we are ultimately mental beings.  We can dialogue precisely because there is something intelligible about us.  We are more than just characters in a post.

B:  Author-guided reblogged selection?  Are you daft? Why do you need an author to guide the process of selection, when reblogging sufficiently explains itself.  And come on! Do you really think you are something more than the physical properties of this blog?  How absurd!  My friend, someday this blog will be permanently deleted, and when that happens, you will no longer be.  There is no more to you then a few 1’s and 0’s.

A: No, there is something mental about me.  If this blog dies, I think I might survive!  I hope so, anyways.

B:  We are nothing more than electromagnetic and physical processes.  Sure, I will agree that there is something “linguistic” about us, but that is just an emergent property from our pixels.  There is no intrinsic or objective meaning to what we say or do.  Where do you think you would exist once all of the hardware on which we exist is destroyed?

A: I think I might live on in the mind of the author of my existence.

B: And what if he dies?

A: Hmm.  Well, maybe there is an intermediate author to our existence.  Some finite being.  Still, there could be an author to his existence, right?  Maybe that author will preserve the existence of our author.

B: Oh, so now our author is a ‘he’?  And now you sound just as bad as me with this regress.  We are preserved by our author, who is preserved by his author… and on and on and on…

A: No, something tells me that the buck has to stop somewhere.  Maybe our author is just the author of this blog post, no matter how many times it has been reblogged.  But his author must be a good deal more powerful too.  Surely there cannot be an infinite regress of authors, you’re right.  So there is an ultimate author.

B: And this ultimate author cares about our existence?

A: Perhaps in some way.  At least insofar as he cares about the mind of our author, and we are part of the contents of his mind.

B: Unbelievable! You can’t prove any of this.  Besides, if our author cared about us, wouldn’t he have provided us with better names?

The Beauty of the Trinitarian God

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple (PS 27:14).

It seems that beauty is a kind of perfection.  So if God is a being that has all perfections, it follows that God is beautiful. Furthermore, beauty is found in the natural world. If God is the cause of the natural world, then God Himself must be beautiful, given the metaphysical principle that there cannot be more reality in the effect than in the cause. But what is beauty? Is something beautiful merely because it is deemed to be so by a mind?  Is it entirely subjective?

I think not.  Thomas Aquinas agrees:

Thomas maintains the objectivity of beauty, in the sense that beauty resides in the object. In other words, beauty is not a concept in the mind of the beholder imposed onto a given object. If beauty is objective, then there must be some criteria by which we discover whether something is in fact beautiful. 1

What might the criteria for beauty be?  Unfortunately, beauty is difficult to define. Indeed, if it is one of the transcendentals, it is impossible to give an essential definition for it. Nonetheless, there are some great pre-modern theories about the beautiful. The great theories of beauty generally agreed that it consists of unity, proportion, equality, harmony, and order. (Tatarkiewicz 1972, 168-9)2

I would distill the great theories of beauty down to this.  Beauty is a sort of harmony, equality, or order among those which are distinct in number but which are somehow formally unified.

How could God of classical theism be beautiful, or rather, most beautiful according to this theory? For, the God of classical theism is divinely simple.  And in being simple, he satisfies one of the necessary conditions for our theory of beauty.   But, there is no diversity in God, nor parts to be arranged in any sort of harmony, proportion, order, or equality.  So it seems that God cannot be beautiful.

If God is not beautiful, then either creation is in some way more perfect than the creator, or beauty is not really a perfection. But, even if beauty is not a perfection, or some sort of “divine” perfection, there is still the problem of how it could be caused by God. For to deny that beauty is caused by God is to deny God’s aseity.  And to say that God is the cause of beauty but not beautiful Himself undercuts our metaphysical principle that the cause must have at least as much reality as its effect.

If there is supreme beauty, it would be in that which is most unified and which nonetheless has genuine distinction. It seems to me that the Trinity offers us an example of a classical theistic God in whom there are a number of persons in perfect harmony, equality, order, and unity. If the Trinity is coherent, then it offers an answer to the question of divine beauty. We can maintain that beauty is a perfection, that God truly is beautiful, and is the cause of beauty in nature. Nature, in effect, is beautiful insofar as it reflects the unity and harmony of the Trinity. Aquinas would not say that the Trinity is a diversity within God, but he would agree that the persons are distinct and three in number. His hesitancy of saying that God is a unity with a diversity of persons is due to his strong emphasis on the doctrine of simplicity. Nonetheless, the distinctness, unity, harmony, equality, and order of the Trinity is a perfect expression of beauty.

One might go so far as to press this a a problem for those who conceive of God as a singular person. It seems to me that the unitarian has the following options:

A) Deny that God is beautiful, and offer a theodicy for why there is beauty in the world.
B) Grant that God is simple and beautiful, but that beauty does not involve harmony, equality, or order among distinct members.
C) Grant that God is beautiful, but not simple. And hold that there are distinct parts to God to which harmony and order can be predicated.

There are problems with all three of these positions. Consider option A form a moment. Perhaps beauty is a property of matter, and since God is not material, God doesn’t have such a property. But beauty is often ascribed to immaterial things like equations, abstract object, and theories.  So why can’t an immaterial god be beautiful? Perhaps beauty, then, is some sort of privation, like evil? Of what is it a privation, ugliness?  This seems to have things backwards and only introduces another question regarding the origin of beauty’s contrary. Or perhaps one might maintain aesthetic anti-realism. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and not a fact about anything, including God. But while there may be some subjective aspects to aesthetic experience, it just seems wrong when someone thinks that this picture by Chris Jordan:

is more beautiful than that:

2014-03-16 14.50.44

I don’t think I could take someone to be serious if he were to insist that the picture of a decaying bird engorged with litter is more beautiful than the picture of blossoming almond trees.  I would simply take such a person to be a contrarian, akin to the moral relativist who blushes slightly when he bites the bullet and says that segregation wasn’t really wrong for the societies that endorsed it.  Bite the bullet all you want.  If you think the bird is more beautiful, there is something wrong with you.

Next, there is option B.  But it denies a theory of beauty that seems to make sense of much of our experience of the beautiful, i.e. that it is a harmony, proportion, or equality of sorts. So if it is to be preferable to the Trinitarian explanation, if should offer a theory of beauty that explains the data of our experience at least as well as the “great” theories of old.  Absent an alternative theory of beauty, it is not clear that this option will be superior.  And if the alternative theory is merely fitted to the idea that God is beautiful, but that there are no distinctions in God, then this option simply comes across as ad hoc.  On the other hand, trinitarianism and the great theories of beauty are independently motivated, yet nicely converge.

Option C leaves classical theism behind, and raises new questions about the nature of the divine.  Diversity is introduced into the divine substance, and it seems we must now explain why these diverse parts are unified as a substance.  We must also explain why this complex divine substance is ontologically necessary, and impossible to separate.  Additional explanations that try to regain the attributes of the God of classical theism will appear to be ad hoc unless there are independent reasons to accepting them.

If one holds to i) the doctrine of divine simplicity, ii) beauty as an objective fact and perfection, and iii) a theory of beauty the convergence of unity and harmony, then Christian Trinitarianism best explains those commitments.

1M. Spicher. “Medieval Theories of Aesthetics”. In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed on March, 18, 2014.
2 W. Tatarkiewicz. 1972. “The Great Theory of Beauty and Its Decline” In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 31, no. 2.

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