Monthly Archives: June 2014

Some Thoughts on the Fifth Way

Aquinas’s fifth way is short, sweet, and misunderstood. I’ve been thinking about it as Dr. Ed Feser advises—not in terms of complexity à la Paley and the ID movement, but in terms of order (see here).

Here is what Aquinas actually says (emphasis mine):

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God (ST I.2.3).

So it is clear that Aquinas, like Aristotle, does not equate all forms of final causality with intelligent agency. Natural things are directed by what they are towards specific ends. What’s more, Aquinas emphasizes that the evidence that “we see”, i.e. the empirical data for the proof, is regularity. He isn’t making a watch-maker argument that the design is complex.

Here are some further thoughts:

We find in Metaphysics 983a30-984a1 that final cause is the opposite of efficient cause. Indeed, on the broadest level, final cause can be defined in relation to efficient cause (combined with formal cause) such that if x, by its nature, is the efficient cause of something y, then the final cause of y is that aspect of the essential nature of x by which x is directed toward the generation of y.

The carpenter has a desire to sit, and it is that aspect of the carpenter that is the final cause of the chair. The heart requires fresh oxygenated blood to beat, so the final cause of blood being circulated from the lungs to the heart is the nature of the heart itself, which uses oxygen to help it pump blood through the circulatory system to sustain its nature of rhythmic beating. Of course other things can exploit final causality. The carpenter exploits the cellular structure of woody material, which directs it towards solidity and also makes it workable. That woody nature is directed towards the high growth of trees, which in turn allows trees to gather sunlight above other plants and nourish the woody cells. So the woody cells are the efficient cause of growth, and the final cause of growth is to sustain the woody cells. With respect to the carpenter, it could be said that he functions in a wider economy to provide chairs for other people who want to sit. So the carpenter responds to their desires to sit as a cause to make more chairs (in exchange for money or goods which the carpenter needs to live). Likewise, other organs, besides the heart, need oxygen to pump. Those organs, in exchange, help to cause the heart to pump by providing neural input, or the proper hormone levels, etc. So there are systems upon systems of interlocking law-like causes. Those causes depend upon a constancy in the nature of things and the way they behave (just as economy depends upon regularity in human laws—hence the carpenter won’t act for the ends of other humans if they are inconstant and cheat him). Nothing in physical nature seems to determine this regularity in themselves. Thus, with the elimination of formal and final causality, Hume found the problem of induction. But with a supreme mind that sustains and orders the nature of all things, the problem of induction disappears and the regularity and intelligibility of the cosmos can be accounted for. Human economy can fail because our intelligence doesn’t guarantee law-like behavior. But physical laws won’t fail because the intelligence which orders and moves all things is immutable, though particular instances of natural kinds can be corrupted such that the function eventually ceases. Thus chairs break, and hearts cease to pump. The law-like behavior of essential natures are regulated, but evil can deform individual things and break down particular systems.

In Christian theology, God is the efficient cause of all things, and it is God’s Goodness that is the essential aspect of his nature which liberally and graciously generates all things. So God is both the first efficient cause and the final cause of all things. This is because God is Being itself, and so all beings are brought into existence through his essential nature, and they are directed towards Being insofar as Being is that which perfects their nature.

Perhaps, then, the fall can be understood as a metaphysical breakdown between individuals and their essences. That breakdown can allow the accumulation of accidental changes to disrupt systems within a natural individual to the point where it ceases to be what it is and a substantial change occurs—cataclysm and death. But God still sustains essences, and the promise of Christ is that there will be a new creation. Perhaps this means that individual things will be perfected, and function according to their natures perfectly.

A Mystico-Ontological Argument

I was considering the idea of evidence in the last post. This argument occurred to me.  Criticisms, as always, are welcome (Also, this is my 100th post!!):

A Mystico-Ontological Argument

1. If the probability of a hypothesis is greater on a given piece of evidence than the probability of the hypothesis alone, and no fact makes the evidence impossible, then the probability of the hypothesis, given the evidence, is greater than zero.
2. If the probability of a hypothesis given the evidence is greater than zero, then possibly the hypothesis is true.
3. There is a hypothesis that necessarily there exists an all-perfect being.
4. There is evidence from the testimony from those who have had a mystical experience of an all-perfect being.
5. The probability of the hypothesis that there necessarily exists an all perfect being is greater on the testimonial evidence from mystical experience than the probability of the hypothesis alone.
6. No fact makes the testimonial evidence of the mystical experience of an all-perfect being impossible.
7. Therefore, an all-perfect being exists.

P(h|e) – the probability of hypothesis h given evidence e
P(h) – the unconditioned probability of h
Πx – x is all-perfect
Tx – x is testimony that one has mystical experienced an all-perfect being

1. (∀h)(∀e){[(P(h|e) > P(h)) & ~(∃φ)(P(e|φ) = 0)] → (P(h|e) > 0)} (premise)
2. (∀h)(∀e)[(P(h|e) > 0) → ◊h] (premise)
3. (∃h)(∃e){[(h = ☐(∃x)Πx) & (e = (∃y)Ty)] & [(P(e|h) > P(h)) & ~(∃φ)(P(e|φ) = 0)]} (premise)
4. (∃e){[(h = ☐(∃x)Πx) & (e = (∃y)Ty)] & [(P(e|h) > P(h)) & ~(∃φ)(P(e|φ) = 0)]} (3 EI)
5. [(h = ☐(∃x)Πx) & (e = (∃y)Ty)] & [(P(e|h) > P(h)) & ~(∃φ)(P(e|φ) = 0)] (4 EI)
6. [(P(e|h) > P(h)) & ~(∃φ)(P(e|φ) = 0)] (5 Simp)
7. (∀e){[(P(h|e) > P(h)) & ~(∃φ)(P(e|φ) = 0)] → (P(h|e) > 0)} (1 UI)
8. [(P(h|e) > P(h)) & ~(∃φ)(P(e|φ) = 0)] → (P(h|e) > 0) (7 UI)
9 (P(h|e) > 0) (6,8 MP)
10. (∀e)[(P(h|e) > 0) → ◊h] (2 UI)
11. (P(h|e) > 0) → ◊h (10 UI)
12. ◊h (9,11 MP)
13. (h = ☐(∃x)Πx) & (e = (∃y)Ty) (5 Simp)
14. h = ☐(∃x)Πx  (13 Simp)
15. ◊☐(∃x)Πx (12,14 ID)
16. ☐(∃x)Πx (15 axiom S5)
17. (∃x)Πx (16 NE)

Support for the premises:

Premise 1: This premise tells us that when there is evidence that raises the probability of a hypothesis even slightly, then the probability of the hypothesis on the evidence cannot equal zero. To counter the charge that the evidence is only apparent, I’ve added the condition that there should not be any fact that makes the evidence, itself, impossible.

Premise 2: If the probability for some hypothesis is greater than zero it has to be possible. Put another way, if a hypothesis is impossible, the probability for the hypothesis is not greater than zero. And that is just what it means to be impossible.

Premise 3: This tells us that there is a hypothesis on the table, namely that necessarily there exists a maximally great being. That is the God hypothesis, which is the central dispute in this debate. To deny that there is even a God hypothesis is absurd, for it is to deny the debate altogether.

Premise 4: This tells us there is evidence for that hypothesis in the form of testimony from religious experience.  Indeed, Mark Webb (2011, Religious Experience) confirms, “Some subjects of religious experiences report… [experiences of] an infinitely perfect, personal creator.”  Here are some examples of such testimony: i) There is the mystical writing of St. John of the Cross, “O gentle touch, and most gentle, for you touch me with your most simple and pure essence, which being infinite is infinitely gentle, therefore it is that this touch is so subtle, so loving, so deep, and so delicious that it savors of eternal life” (St. John of the Cross,The Living Flame of Love, Stanza II, emphasis mine). ii) There is the mystical writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite, “Through these, Its incomprehensible Presence is manifested upon those heights of Its Holy Places; that then It breaks forth, even from that which is seen and that which sees, and plunges the mystic into the Darkness of Unknowing, whence all perfection of understanding is excluded, and he is enwrapped in that which is altogether intangible, wholly absorbed in it that is beyond all, and in none else (whether himself or another); and through the inactivity of all his reasoning powers is united by his highest faculty to it that is wholly unknowable; thus by knowing nothing he knows That which is beyond his knowledge” (Mystical Theology, Ch. 1). Pseudo-Dionysius goes on to say, “…we can neither affirm nor deny it, inasmuch as the all-perfect and unique Cause of all things transcends all affirmation, and the simple pre-eminence of Its absolute nature is outside of every negation- free from every limitation and beyond them all” (Mystical Theology, Ch. 5, emphasis mine). iii) Augustine reports in the Confessions a mystical experience of God that he shared with his mother, Monica, in Ostia, “ Our colloquy led us to the point where the pleasures of the body’s senses, however intense and in however brilliant a material light enjoyed, seemed unworthy not merely of comparison but even of remembrance beside the joy of that life, and we lifted ourselves in longing yet more ardent toward That Which Is, and step by step traversed all bodily creatures and heaven itself, whence sun and moon and stars shed their light upon the earth. Higher still we mounted by inward thought and wondering discourse on your works, and we arrived at the summit of our own minds; and this too we transcended, to touch that land of never-failing plenty where you pasture Israel for ever with the food of truth. Life there is the Wisdom through whom all these things are made, and all others that have been or ever will be; but Wisdom herself is not made: she is as she always has been and will be forever. Rather should we say that in her there is no “has been” or “will be,” but only being, for she is eternal, but past and future do not belong to eternity. And as we talked and panted for it, we just touched the edge of it by the utmost leap of our hearts; then, sighing and unsatisfied, we left the first-fruits of our spirit captive there, and returned to the noise of articulate speech, where a word has beginning and end. How different from your Word, our Lord, who abides in himself, and grows not old, but renews all things” (Confessions IX, 24 emphasis mine). iv) Even the logical positivist and well-known atheist, A.J. Ayer, is reported to have had an religious experience of some sort, “I was confronted by a red light…Aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe. Among its ministers were two creatures who had been put in charge of space…” (P. Foges 2010).  These mystical experiences of an infinite, all-perfect, self-abiding, eternal being is testimonial evidence that there is a being that has all-perfections, including omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, and necessary existence. That is precisely what our hypothesis is.

Premise 5: Testimonial evidence of the truth of some hypothesis raises the probability of that hypothesis higher than the hypothesis possesses intrinsically. This is testimonial evidence that some mystics have had experiences of a perfect personal God.

Premise 6: While one may be skeptical of such mystical experiences, or attempt to explain it away as a deception, neurological illusion, some other psychological delusion, or mere poetry none of these facts make the testimony that these people actual experiences a personal all-perfect being impossible. That is, attempts to explain this evidence away does not establish that there is zero probability that it is evidence at all. Nor is there any fact that makes a personal all-perfect being intrinsically possible, given that the plausibility that apparent inconsistencies in the divine attributes can be resolved, and arguments like Robert Maydole’s Modal Perfection argument or Alexander Pruss’s Gödelian Argument, which argues that positive perfections are compossible.

A Couple of Anticipated Objections:

1. One might attack (2) by saying that there is a shift between subjective probability and logical possibility, and that this is tantamount to shifting between conceivability and possibility. Then again, if the hypothesis is itself impossible, that should be established by the atheologian given the positive arguments for the coherence of h (found in 3D above). But given those positive arguments, combined with the testimonial evidence of mystics, we might say that we have some good positive reasons to think that the P(h|e) is higher than zero, and so possible. Perhaps this argument does shift between conceivability and logical possibility in (2). What it might tell us something interesting about our intuitions, namely, that if we have a sense that mystical testimony in anyway increases the probability that the hypothesis is true, then we should believe it. But if we have the sense that no amount of mystical evidence raises the probability that there is an all-perfect being, then that would be consistent with the impossibility of such a being.

2. One might argue that the testimonial evidence offered in (3) is not an encounter of an all-perfect, or maximally great being. But for this argument to be a defeater, they would need definitive proof that it was not, since even if it is the slightest bit probable that they did have such a genuine encounter, the probability of h is raised slightly, and we can conclude that h is possible.

1For the purposes of this argument, I’ve condensed premises 3-6 in natural language into the third premise of the formal deduction.

12 Examples of Evidence That Support God’s Existence

I’ve often heard it said that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Of course, as soon as I challenge that claim, I usually hear a series of qualifications, e.g. there is no empirical evidence, or there is no scientific evidence, or there is “scant” evidence, or there is insufficient evidence. The fact is that there is no singular way to understand “evidence.” So when someone says, “there is no evidence” or “you haven’t shown any evidence,” the first task is to nail down precisely what “evidence” means. Only later can we take up the question of the sufficiency of evidence.

In defining evidence, I prefer something like a Bayesian account:

(∀x)(∀h){[P(h|x)>P(h)] ⊃ Exh} (read as: for all facts and for all hypotheses, if the probability of a hypothesis, h, given a fact x, is greater than the probability of h unconditioned, then x is evidence for h).

This definition is commonly accepted by philosophers of science, is natural, and implicit in legal reasoning. It doesn’t beg the question as to whether the hypothesis is true, believed to be true, or known to be true. It just lays out when something should rightly be called evidence for a hypothesis. If someone would like to explain why there is absolutely no evidence for God, I would like to know a) what do they mean by evidence, and b) why do the following not count?

So is there any evidence that makes the God hypothesis more likely than the God hypothesis alone? I am going to present some facts that I think make God’s existence more likely than the God hypothesis is by itself. Think of it this way: were you to wake up tomorrow to the news that these facts were overturned for one reason or another, would you have even less reason to think God exists? Another way to think of this is to consider if the evidence is more surprising given the non-existence of God or the existence of God.

1. That there is a universe of existing things rather than nothing: Think of it this way, if there were no universe and no God, there would be nothing that needs to be explained. The universe exists, and so it makes the hypothesis that God exists a little more likely than if there was no universe at all. Now it might be odd to think about a scenario where you read in the newspaper that there is no universe at all. Nonetheless, if we could posit some observer of a situation where there were no universe, I think such an observer would have less reason to think God exists than we do given that there is a universe.

2. The contingency of the universe: Related to there being something is the notion that the something we perceive is contingent.  It didn’t have to be. And the existence of contingent things always has an explanation. So, the conjunction of all contingent facts, requires an explanation. But that explanation cannot be within the conjunction. So the explanation is something non-contingent, and beyond the contingent natural world. If nothing were contingent, then classical theism would be less likely as a hypothesis. Conversely, the existence of contingent things is expected on classical theism. If non-theism were the case, perhaps there would be nothing at all and so nothing requiring an explanation.

3. The fine-tuning of the universe: Sure there might be some multiverse explanation on the horizon. But keep in mind that the multiverse is an additional ad hoc hypothesis that has yet to be established. Furthermore, it may very well be that fine-tuning applies to the multiverse as well. But generally speaking, if there were no fine-tuning at all, theism would be less likely. That is, if it turned out that the universe did not need much fine-tuning to sustain life (that the parameters were huge), we would think God would be less necessary as a hypothesis. Conversely, fine-tuning is at least some evidence in favor of God.

4. The ubiquity of biogenesis and lack of observation of abiogensis: If abiogenesis were a common occurrence, we would think that would really make God less necessary. But generally we observe that life comes from life. And so it seems that this fits better with a world-view where biological life my have been brought into existence through the providence of a living God. Again, imagine you open your newspaper tomorrow morning and read an article that says “Scientists have discovered that abiogensis occurs everyday at the bottom of the ocean”… would you rush to post that on your favorite Atheism/Theism forum on Facebook as evidence against theism, or would you shrug? Would the theist nervously try to explain the scientist’s findings away? Now I am not saying that the discovery of abiogensis would be a defeater for theism, but it would be slight evidence against God. Likewise, the constant confirmation that life comes from life fits with theism, where a living God is the source of everything.

5. The hard problem of consciousness: If there were no conscious beings, naturalists wouldn’t be struggling to resolve the hard problem (a series of interconnected problems associated with intentionality, qualia, identity, individuation, other minds, moral responsibility and freedom). Likewise, if there were no hard problem for the naturalists to resolve, theism would look less likely. Consciousness is not surprising on theism since it posits that consciousness is fundamental and necessarily existing in God and that God would somehow want to create rational substances like Him. Suppose that tomorrow a purely naturalistic explanation of consciousness were vindicated and the hard problem no longer existed, would the absence of the hard problem of consciousness mean that the God hypothesis on its own would be less likely? It seems to me, then, that the God Hypothesis is more likely given that consciousness is a hard problem for the naturalist. That is, consciousness is less surprising given the existence of God than the non-existence of God.

6. Testimony from scripture: Yes, testimony is a form of evidence! Sure, you might have your doubts about the authority of scripture. But if there were no scriptures or testimony at all, theism would be even less likely, wouldn’t it? Suppose that you lived in a universe where no sacred scripture existed at all. No one claimed to have a revelation. You might not think that testimony from scripture sufficiently proves that there is a God, but surely it is some evidence.

7. Contemporary miracle claims: Again, you might have your doubts, but imagine a world where there were absolutely no miracle claims at all. Such a world would make the existence of God less likely, so obviously claims of mystical experiences, healings, visions, and apparitions have to count in some way.

8. Common consent: Most people in most ages thought there was a god or Gods. If most people throughout time were atheists, and only a tiny minority thought God belief was reasonable, that would make God’s existence less likely since we wouldn’t have to devise ad hoc hypotheses to explain the ubiquity of God belief. In and of itself, God’s existence is more likely if most people believe there is a God than if hardly anybody does. That is, absent strong defeaters, when most people think something is the case, that counts in favor of the hypothesis.

9. A natural desire for God: This is related to common consent, because this is the common natural desire for God. The universal desire for a transcendent being is found across cultures. Non-theistic psychologists, like Freud accounted for this religious desire by appealing to the Oedipus complex and the development of totems. Evolutionary psychologists say that our desires and beliefs have their origin in a hyperactive agency section device that has aided our survival. But the psychological and evolutionary genesis of our natural desires for God and transcendence are not evidence against God. After all, the naturalist wants to say that truth-tracking has survival advantages, generally. C.S. Lewis noted that all natural desires have a corresponding object that satisfies the desire. We desire food, there is food. We desire sexual gratification, and we can attain it. We desire warmth, there is fire. Now we also have artificial desires that have nothing to do with our natures and there isn’t always a way to satisfy those desires. For instance, I might desire the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and without technological advances, I’ll never be able to do that. But the desire for God seems to be a part of our nature. And if all other natural desires can be satisfied by something that exists, the desire for God is some evidence in favor for God. Put another way, if we generally did not feel a desire for transcendence at all, if belief and desire for God were artificial creations of capitalism and marketing, or science fiction, theism would be less likely.

10. The coherency of the concept of God: Natural theologians and philosophers of religion have examined the coherency of a perfect being and arguments for inconsistency among the attributes have been addressed to the point where many atheists avoid inconsistency arguments altogether. The attributes of God are adjusted to avoid logical paradoxes and impossibilities. Arguments for the logical consistency and possibility of a perfect being were advanced first by Leibniz and then Gödel have been further refined by Maydole, Pruss and many others. Furthermore, the concept of God has been productive in this history of philosophy, and has pushed philosophers to make important and fine-grain distinctions: substance, subsistence, nature, and persons. The concept of God has refined our understanding ontological categories like relations, accidents, essences, what it means to be a se. Also, the God concept has expanded our notions of modality to the contemplation of possible worlds, and in distinguishing different modes of necessity. It has introduced us to the concept of divine simplicty, generated fascinating discussions on the nature of universals, the nature of time and eternity, and the nature of ethical commands and duties. Could the concept of a perfect being be inherently incoherent yet has been so philosophically useful? The concept of God provides provides so much traction that one is forced to carefully think through other concepts when they are related to God. But incoherence provides little traction, since the principle of explosion means that anything could be the case. Why were the scholastics making such careful distinctions? It seems to me that they realized that the concept of God implied very specific things and not just anything. But given the S5 axiom of model logic, the apparent logical consistency of the concept of God is strong evidence that God actually exists. Again, the evidence here is not the coherency of the concept of God itself, but the years of scrutiny and utility of the God concept.

11. The rational “discoverability” of the universe: Induction is rather inexplicable on naturalism, but is unsurprising if there is a personal intelligent creator of the universe. In other words, induction is an intractable problem for those who deny that God exists. Any evidence in support of induction question-beggingly relies on induction. Most just pragmatically move on without really sweating over whether induction is justified. If tomorrow it turned out that induction no longer provided legitimate justification for beliefs, naturalism would have nothing to explain, but theism would be harder to believe. Hence the success of induction, the law-like behavior of nature, and the scientific enterprise generally, is evidence in favor of theism.

12. Change: Given that anything that undergoes change is actively changed by something non-identical to it, change is evidence that an unchanged purely active changer exists. One can derive various other divine attributes of a purely actual unchanged changer, like uniqueness, omnipotence, necessity, simplicity, aseity, goodness, etc. through subsequent proofs. To me, the empirical evidence of change supports classical theism. In a world were change does not occur or is an illusion, there is less evidence in support of classical theism.

Are these lines of evidence sufficient to prove God exists? I leave that assessment to the reader. I cannot pretend to know what makes evidence sufficient for belief. We all must assess the evidence ourselves and consider which beliefs we are committed to. If admitting the hypothesis that God exists means that one must abandon other deeply held convictions, one must consider the cost of accepting God belief over and against abandoning those other beliefs. At the same time, I’m not claiming that the evidence I have presented is decisive or cannot be explained away by other facts. The point of this post is merely to say that there is some evidence. And so there is. To claim otherwise is patently false.