Monthly Archives: May 2014

A simple deontic-ontological argument

Here is a simple deontic ontological argument:

1. I ought to attain the highest form of happiness.
2. I ought to attain the highest form of happiness only if is possible that I attain the highest form of happiness.
3. ‘I attain the highest form of happiness’ is identical to ‘there is a perfect being and I am in communion with it’.
4. If it is possible that there is a perfect being and I am in communion with it, then it is possible that there is a perfect being, and it is possible that I am in communion with it.
5. A perfect being is identical to a necessarily existing maximally excellent being.
6. Therefore, a perfect being exists.
QED

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Divine Simplicity, Coconuts, and Hilbert Hotels

 

Gaunilo’s Lost Island?

Here is an argument for Divine Simplicity inspired by this argument formulated by Alexander Pruss.  In my argument, I define God as a maximally great being.

1.  If God has parts, then either God has an actual infinity of parts or a finite amount of parts.
2.  God has an infinity of parts only if there can be an actual infinity of concreta.
3.  God has a finite amount of parts only if a finite amount of coconut trees on an island doesn’t prevent it from being a maximally great island.
4.  An actual infinity of concreta is impossible.
5.  An finite amount of coconut trees on an island prevents it from being a maximally great island.
6.  Therefore, God has no parts.

Defending (1)-(5):

1.  This premise is essentially trivially true.  It should be noted, though, that I take the claim that God has parts to be a real ontological claim about constituents that jointly compose the divine substance.  That is, the denier of divine simplicity cannot fall back onto an anti-realist position about parts (that the parts of God are just ways we conceive of God’s essence) as that would be indistinguishable from the doctrine of divine simplicity.

2.  Given that God is a concrete reality, the parts of God would be concrete realities. Hence an actual infinity of parts would be an actual infinity of concrete parts (not too controversial).

3.  A common objection to Gaunilo’s lost island, one that I think is quite right, is that an island cannot be maximally great since it must have an finite amount of some constituent parts, e.g. coconut trees or, say, island beauties.  But the addition of one more part would be greater, so finite parts are incompatible with maximal greatness.  One might insist that the parts of God are not like trees or beauties.  But why think that? Suppose you think, for instance, that God is three persons, but you deny that those persons are identical with God (as some theistic personalists are apt to do). Instead, you hold the view that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are parts of the Divine Substance.  Why wouldn’t you be inclined to think that one more person would be greater?  Perhaps you might have some argument about harmony to justify a particular finite set of person-parts, but it isn’t obvious that that sort of “aesthetic” judgment is objectively correct, or, if one is at all concerned with defending Christianity, that three persons achieves that harmony.  Or, consider omnipresence.  Does it entail that God is present in every spatial location?  Some argue that omnipresence is entailed by omniscience, that God is present in all locations in so far as intellect is cognizant of those locations. But those who want to attribute parts to God want to say that God’s Intellect is a different part than, say, God’s will, love, power, etc.  If so, it seems that only part of God is omnipresent, namely God’s intellect.  But is all of God’s intellect cognizant of a location or only part of God’s intellect?  Could more of God’s intellect be cognizant of a location?  Could more of God’s parts be present in a given location?  Could more locations add to the parts of God’s intellect?  If so, it would seem that more parts of the intellect, more intellects, more wills, more love between more persons of the God-head would increase God’s greatness.  But then a God with parts cannot be maximally great for the same reason an island, pizza, or human cannot be maximally great.  A person who rejects divine simplicity, but holds that God has a finite amount of parts, needs to show that no addition of parts could make God greater.  But prima facie, and absent any reason to think otherwise, I think it is reasonable to think that an addition to at least some of the finite sets of divine parts would make a non-simple god greater, which is to say that a maximally great non-simple God is impossible.

4.  There are many arguments against an actual infinity of concreta.  Consider, for example, Craig’s use of Hilbert’s Hotel and related paradoxes.

5.  As mentioned in my defense of (3), there doesn’t seem to be a finite amount of coconut trees (or island beauties) that would be consistent with an island being maximally great.  All else being equal, an island with 100 coconut trees seems to make an island greater than some island with 99 coconut trees.  We might suppose then that, all else being equal, an island with n coconut trees is less great than an island with (n+1) coconut trees.  Therefore, a maximally great island with finite parts is impossible.  Given that all islands are necessarily finite, a maximally great island is a logical absurdity, which is why I think most parodies of the ontological argument are ineffectual.  They depend upon substituting “God” with something that is implicitly a finite composite. Now, one might say that there are other reasons for why a maximally great island is impossible, e.g. such an island must be a contingent thing given its dependence on space and time. But surely the finitude of great-making island properties are among the reasons such an island cannot be.

I think (1)-(5) are defensible and true.  Therefore, I think God has no parts, i.e. God is simple.  QED

A Moral Argument for the Reasonableness of Theism

Consider a moral argument constructed like this:

1. The case for objective moral values is not as strong as it is for the existence of God.

2.  If case for objective moral values is not as strong as it is for the existence of God, and the case is strong enough that one can reasonably believe in the existence of objective moral values, then the case is strong enough that one can reasonably believe in the existence of God.

3.  The case is strong enough that one can reasonably believe in the existence of objective moral values.

4.  Therefore, the case is strong enough that one can reasonably believe in the existence of God.

I think (1) is defensible, since most arguments for objective moral values tend to come down to moral intuitions.  Certainly there are theological intuitions that can be mustered in support of theism, e.g. the sensus divinitatis of Calvin, but there many other sorts of arguments for God for which there is no parallel proof for objective moral values.  There are cosmological arguments, arguments from fine-tuning, arguments from consciousness, the argument from desire, other varieties of moral arguments, various ontological arguments, the trademark argument, arguments from miracles, and so on.  Now one might say that these arguments, even in their strongest forms, are not successful.  Perhaps, but the case for God may still be stronger.

Now someone might object to (2) by saying that even if the case for objective moral values is weaker than the case for God, the strength of the case must be proportionate to the extraordinary nature of the claim.  Perhaps the existence of objective good and evil is less extraordinary than the existence of God, so even if the case for God were stronger than for objective moral values and the case for objective moral values were strong enough for someone to reasonably affirm them, one might not have a strong enough case for theism.  This depends on what we mean by “strong” or “weak”.  If we mean those terms to be some objective quantified assessment, I think this critique would be right.  But I mean something else, I think of “strong” or “weak” relative to the conclusion trying to be established.  So if I say that the case for God is stronger than the case for objective moral values, I am not saying that the case for objective morals is a “7” while the case for God is a “9”.  You could turn around and say that it is reasonable to accept moral values when the case is at a “7”, you need to have a “10” to make a reasonable case for belief in God.  Rather, I am saying that if the case is closer to being reasonably established for theism than it is for objective moral values, and the case for objective moral values is rationally defensible, then it must also be for theism.

Finally, I think (3) is going to be a hard one to defend to those who do not already take the existence of objective moral values to be rationally defensible.  Atheists who accept (1) are probably going to want to deny (3), and those who accept (3) are going to want to go after (1).  Nonetheless, as I said, there are not too many arguments for objective moral values beyond moral intuition.  The only other defense is to draw out some of the untoward consequences of denying the existence of objective moral values, e.g. the impossibility of assessing moral progress, the bizarre notion that, at any given moment when one has a moral opinion, that moral opinion is correct at that moment, the impossibility of moral discourse on shared objective values and principles, etc.  Now, these are not so much independent arguments, but ways to draw out our moral intuitions more sharply.  It is intuitive to me that the success of the civil rights movement was a step towards moral progress.  Furthermore, though I would say that I think my moral beliefs are true, I hardly think I am infallible at any given time.  I think I can make mistakes about moral assessments, so I think a subjective moral opinion isn’t right just because someone holds it.  Finally, I observe moral debate and discourse all around me, on television, in movies, in conversations with friends.  It could be that they are engaged in a meaningless exchange, like friends who are engaged in a heated debate over whether Jazz is better than Classical.  There is no right answer when it comes to questions of taste, but people can still have debates about them (especially at the pubs).  Perhaps that is what is going on in moral debates.  Perhaps, but I don’t think so.  My intuitions tell me otherwise.  I think it is rational to believe in objective morality, and a good percentage of philosophers seem to agree.

If so, I think that we can conclude that the case for God is strong enough to permit a reasonable belief in God.  Just a thought.

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