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.

Deduction1
Let:
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.

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Posted on June 13, 2014, in Arguments for God and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’ve never really understood the appeal of modal ontological arguments. There seems to be a disconnect between the way they use modal logic and the way we actually reason about things. For example, I think it’s epistemically possible that I’m wrong and that God exists – but I *don’t* think there exists a possible world containing a necessary perfect being. My confidence in that proposition is quite low, so I’m going to reject the crucial premise of any modal ontological argument (‘possibly necessarily G’).

    And while Plantinga has said that the point isn’t to convince people of theism, but merely to show that it’s a rationally acceptable position to hold, it seems to me that other arguments could do both. So pragmatically, writing about those instead would be a better option for a theist (unless, of course, he thinks none of those other arguments work!)

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    • Hi Skepticism First, I write this arguments to give further support to the reasonableness of the possibility premise. I don’t know if there can be a definitive proof that a maximally great, or all-perfect being is possible, but I can give you reasons for why I lean towards thinking that it is possible. To me, that is something.

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  2. This argument does not work because it commits an equivocation fallacy.
    When somebody admits something is possible this merely means that said person cannot definitively prove it false. This does not mean it is really possible. But contrary to epistemic possibility modal possibility requires that the claim is actually really possible. If I throw a coin and before showing it ask “Head or tails?” you would not know which and admit that it is epistemically possible that it is head and the same for tails. But if I was cheating and was using a coin with both sides head tails was never possible but your statement that it was epistemically possible was justified anyway as you could not have known. The claim of modal possibility however is a completely different claim. If you would have said that there was some possible world in which the outcome of the coin toss would have been tails you would have been wrong. And this is where the sleight of hand in modal arguments happens. You shift the burden of proof using the equivocation fallacy. When an atheist says it is possible God exists he/she only admits there is no definitive proof against God. But this in no way entails God exists in a possible world. For this to be the case all of God’s attributes would have to be fully stated and exhaustively analysed until we can conclude there is not impossibility. Because theists without exception fails to even give a meaningful definition of what God is (as opposed to what God does or is not) there can be no claim to having achieved proof of the possibility of God.
    Modal possibility is a knowledge claim. It is a positive claim and therefore entails the burden of proof. Denial of this would lead to infinite logical absurdities. One of these is that the modal logical argument would prove that God exists and not exist at the same time as you can use “it is possible that a perfect/maximally great being does not exist so possibly necessary reduces to necessarily not existing”.
    Also any entity could be given the predicate necessarily existing and be conjured into existence. Endless contradictions would follow. You could even solve all mathematical problems using the modal argument. “I have the necessary answer to unsolved mathematical problem X. This is true unless you can prove my answer does not solve the problem!”
    If modal logic would really not require any proof for possibility it would be an insanely overpowered instrument proving far more than is reasonable. The truth is that modal logic is largely tautological and has very limited application. It is mostly about simplifying claims, not about proving things that were not already proven prior to the initial argument that is used as input.

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    • Hi killer4hire,

      Thank you for engaging with my argument. You bring up some interesting points. However, I do want to clarify a few things. You write, “This argument does not work because it commits an equivocation fallacy. When somebody admits something is possible this merely means that said person cannot definitively prove it false. This does not mean it is really possible. But contrary to epistemic possibility modal possibility requires that the claim is actually really possible.” I do not think it is true that every time a person admits that something is possible, such a person is merely admitting that he or she cannot definitively prove it false (impossible?). Many times they mean that is it physically possible, legally possible, morally possible, metaphysically possible, or logically possible. I intend univocity in my argument, and stipulate it as such. The diamond box is meant to represent logical possibility rather than epistemic possibility or conceivability (an objection that I anticipate towards the end of the post).

      You also say, “If I throw a coin and before showing it ask “Head or tails?” you would not know which and admit that it is epistemically possible that it is head and the same for tails. But if I was cheating and was using a coin with both sides head tails was never possible but your statement that it was epistemically possible was justified anyway as you could not have known.” Yes, in such a case, it is not physically possible that the coin will land on heads. Perhaps there is a possible world where flips can cause heads to form on coins and so there is, in a sense, a possible world where one side of a coin spontaneously arranges itself into the image of a head, but I doubt that is what I would mean if I were to say it is possible. So it is important to specify the sense of possibility in the discussion. In this argument, I attempt to transition from an assessment of the evidence for a hypothesis to the logical possibility of the hypothesis. The question is whether it is fair to move from an estimation of the probability being hire than 0 to the conclusion that the hypothesis is logically possible. I am interested in this question, and so I threw the argument up to consider it further. I don’t think the argument would run if the estimation of the probability is entirely subjective. I attempted to circumvent the subjective nature of the assessment by stipulating that the facts surrounding the evidence cannot be intrinsically impossible. But I think it should also be said that there must be some sense in which it is true or known to be true that the hypothesis in question has a probability greater than 0.

      You write, “For this to be the case all of God’s attributes would have to be fully stated and exhaustively analysed until we can conclude there is not impossibility. Because theists without exception fails to even give a meaningful definition of what God is (as opposed to what God does or is not) there can be no claim to having achieved proof of the possibility of God.” Indeed, part of my further defense of premise 6 includes and appeal to the modal perfection argument of Maydole, and similar arguments by Pruss. Also, I am quite impressed by this paper on the matter by Czar Bernstein: http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/uhm/213/

      Also, “Modal possibility is a knowledge claim. It is a positive claim and therefore entails the burden of proof.” Yes, that is precisely what I was attempting here. There is a class of experiential ontological arguments. I think mystical experiences can give meaning to the terms, and evidence to the claims of ontological arguments.

      “If modal logic would really not require any proof for possibility it would be an insanely overpowered instrument proving far more than is reasonable. The truth is that modal logic is largely tautological and has very limited application. It is mostly about simplifying claims, not about proving things that were not already proven prior to the initial argument that is used as input.”

      Modal logic has a few more applications than merely stating tautologies. It is used in talking about essential properties, in understanding counterfactuals, in discussing morality, beliefs, etc. So it is just patently false to say that modal logic has such limited uses. I think your objection is to the S5 system as being too powerful.

      Again, thank you for your comments and I hope to see you around here in the future. It’s always good to have someone keep your toes to the fire.

      Best,

      Daniel

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  3. Interesting!

    You want to reword 1 and 6. If there really is testimonial evidence, then the evidence is possible, since the real is always actual. :-)

    I think you want to say: “and no fact makes impossible that which the evidence is for.” But then premise 6 is going to be akin to the possibility premise of standard Plantinga-style ontological arguments.

    The more serious worry is that rational epistemic probabilities of impossible things can be strictly greater than zero. Take any mathematical claim where we don’t have much of an idea if it’s true or false. It may very well be rational to assign a probability strictly between 0 and 1, even though the claim is either impossible or necessarily true.

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