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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.