It’s cosmological arguments all the way down

For those keeping score not only has Inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel Not to Feature an Actual Horror Novel, Brian Niemeier got a new post about the existence of god up ( ) but in a outbreak of morphic resonance John C Wright has a post up about the cosmological argument as well ( ). There’s an excellent take down of the Wright post in the comments that’s well worth a read.

I’ll stick to Brian’s post:

“What we mean by God is the uncreated, all-powerful, and absolute Being who transcends the created order.”

OK but does he transcend time? Does he transcend mathematics? Does he transcend logic? Earlier Brian dismissed discussion about a god “making boulders he cannot lift” but there’s a reason why such cliched argument keep cropping up. What the heck does “all powerful” mean and what are the limitations to that. “No limitations” is fine and a god that can (but chooses not to) do paradoxical things is also fine but if we have a being that transcends logic then any argument about the necessary properties of that being is hogwash. On the other hand, if the being does not transcend logic then, sorry, you’ve still got to deal with tiresome questions about unliftable boulders and who shaves God’s beard if he doesn’t shave himself

“Anyone who says God’s existence can’t be proven is either ignorant or lying. The deception usually lies in moving the goalposts regarding what constitutes evidence. Materialists are fond of demanding physical proof of God while they themselves required no physical proof for materialism.

The claim that God’s existence can’t be proven contains another subtle a priori bias. It assumes that God exists in the same way that a hydrogen atom, a pencil, or an aardvark exists; that is, contingently within the order of creation. God does not have existence per se. It’s more accurate to say that God is Being. The Bible sees eye to eye with Aristotle here. “I Am that I Am.”

That last bit is the Popeye argument: I yam what I yam. It no more demonstrates god’s existence than it demonstrates Popeye’s.

The deception lies in moving the goalpost, says Brian, as he busily digs up the posts from one end of the field and moves them to the parking lot. ‘Exist’ normally means to exist physically but fair enough, there’s other kinds of ‘existing’. Popeye has tattoos (you can see them in the picture) so they ‘exist’ in a narrow sense but we all get that Popeye isn’t real and niether are his tattoos. Gods clearly can ‘exist’ in the sense that fictional beings exist. They exist in the sense that we can have discussions about them. Ficitional beings can have fictional truths about them: Popeye is a sailor and a man. How do I know? Because he is Popeye the Sailor Man!

But if I concede that ‘exist’ can mean something other than physically exist then maybe God exists in someway that is more real than fictional but a the same time not the same as physically existing? Sure! I really can’t prove that’s not the case and it’s not intrinsically irrational if that’s where your faith takes you. However, Brian wants to prove that God exists really real and that’s going to take more effort.

But before we go any further it’s worth pointing out an issue Brian has skipped over. Brian is dismissing God existing in a materialist physical sense. Brian also thinks *JESUS* existed in a physical sense. He’s half a step from demonstrating that Jesus was not God. There’s ways around that but I think most of them are heretical from a strict Catholic perspective. I digress.

“In truth, absolute, uncaused, necessary Being is self-explanatory. The physical universe is more in need of an explanation–both from its origins and at every moment–than the eternal, transcendent God.”

Brian is nodding back to the ontological argument: god is a necessary being and therefore exists because he necessarily exists because we said so. See Popeye above. However, today’s “proof” will be the cosmological argument instead:

“The most elegant and time-tested arguments for absolute Being are the cosmological arguments refined by St. Thomas Aquinas. Moderns and Postmoderns will glibly scoff that these arguments have long been discredited. But each attempt to refute the classical arguments from cosmology, such as David Hume’s, is revealed as a straw man under scrutiny.”

Yes, moderns, post-moderns et al will glibly scoff at the cosmological argument, also there was some scoffing at in the Middle Ages. The link is to a post by Edward Feser who I have discussed before and is a key source for a lot of this necromantic attempts to revive Thomas Aquinas. That link is worth following but it doesn’t adequately deal with the objection, it just points out that the objection has similar problems rather than making the problems go away.

Anyway the next step is the interesting one:

“Here’s a common cosmological argument. An apple ripens on a tree branch. That means the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness, and that potential was put into act. We can rightly ask where the impetus to actualize that potential came from. Apples aren’t self-sufficient. They need water, sunlight, and a host of other conditions to grow. You can try locating the source of the apple’s actualization in any or all of these contingencies, but that just kicks the can a little farther down the road since water, the sun, etc. all contain potentialities requiring external contingencies to actualize.”

You’ll note there’s another assumption of existence there: “the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness”. The assumption is that potentials are also things that exist in some sense or other. Brian then asks us to imagine what made all these dominoes of potentiality knock each other over.

“Positing that it’s contingent beings all the way down doesn’t do any good. That just gets you an infinite train of boxcars with no locomotive. Such a train would be incapable of motion. Similarly, an infinite chain of contingent causality could never move the apple from unripeness to ripeness.”

Except it doesn’t. The added hidden assumption here is that there can be no cases of something happening FOR NO REASON. “Reason” in the sense of things having a reason to happen is central to understanding how the term “cause” is used in these arguments. A bunch of random stuff just happening because of no reason at all is regarded as axiomatically not possible. Of course LOGICALLY we cannot assume that. It has not been established that everything happens for a reason and there’s good (ahem) reason to think the opposite. Sure, random effects at a quantum level MAY have hidden causes but there’s no logical reason to think they must. It’s an assumption, a reasonable and appealing and maybe even aesthetically nice assumption but not one that we can prove. If anything, it’s a habit of mind that we adopt because it is handy at the macro level and has a survival advantage when dealing with other human beings.

[Ed. Why not? Because there would be an infinite number of preceding steps that would have to be completed before the apple could ripen. But by definition, an infinite series of steps can never be completed.]”

Eeek. This is just an unforced error. I’d pick on it but Brian doesn’t need this point for his argument. Having said that over at John C Wright, he’s also trying to be moderate with his views on infinity:

“Infinite is a word that causes endless confusion. All it means is that there is no boundary, no stopping point, or, in this case, no starting point.
We call the number line infinite not because any real human being in real history ever counted all the numbers that exist and discovered that there were an infinite number of them: no, that is nonsense.
What we mean is that there is a rule of mathematics that says that for any given number, no matter how big, you can always add one and get a bigger number. There is no end point to the process of adding.”

Good grief, if I was going to start believing in a god it would be precisely so I wouldn’t need to be so mealy mouthed about actual infinities. Having said that, I think this is in line with Aristotle’s view on infinities, as in no limits to extension rather than there being an actual thing called infinity.

Except…well you can see the problem. Infinities don’t ‘exist’ in the materialist sense of exist as far as we can tell. We don’t find them in nature and either at the very big or the very small. Everywhere we have looked we find very big finitudes or tiny granularities. But we’ve admonished to take off our materialist spectacles and consider existence from the perspective of things with NECESSARY properties. Well in that sense of ‘exist’, the mathematical sense, we have not just infinity but infinities — an infinite number of infinities.

Circling back to both Wright and Niemeier, they want their version of god to exist in the mathematical sense of existing (which may not be existing at all) and also be a thinking person even though the are no examples of thing that only exists in the mathematical sense being a thinking person and all examples of thinking people exist materially.

29 thoughts on “It’s cosmological arguments all the way down

  1. Since mathematics is necessarily dependent on axioms, I give you:
    Axiom 1: There exists an infinite God.
    There. Now God exists mathematically!

    The concept of using math to “prove” God is innately silly.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. On the subject of God and mathematics, in my endless googling I came across this blog post from someone called the Muslim sceptic, who attempts to argue that The arguments which can be used to disprove God can also be used to disprove mathematics.
    Here it is:
    The interesting thing is that he just asserts that no one seriously considers mathematics to be a myth or a figment of the imagination, but then acknowledges that there is a debate on the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bizarre argument. Mathematical entities don’t exist as concrete objects. Now I am happy to say that abstracts exist but obviously it isn’t in the same way that concrete entities exist. Abstractions, for instance lack causal power.

      It’s doubly bizarre, then, to combine this sort of argument with a cosmological argument which assumes that God does have causal power.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. All this “proof of gods existence”. Bah. As if that mattered. When you can prove the existence *and* that it is somehow relevant to us *and* that god in someway even cares about what happens to us, then we are getting somewhere.

    Otherwise, we are just discussing if there is a pebble of stone somewhere on the other side of the universe.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I exist and I am Popeye the sailor. Or rather I was, since I insisted I was Popeye at the age of approx. 5. Hence, Popeye exists or something.

    Hey, it makes as much sense as Niemeier’s argument.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have seen Cora, and I cannot prove that she isn’t Popeye. However, I can also not prove that she is Popeye. I am pretty sure I believe that Cora exists, though.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wait a minute. Has Cora always existed, or did only the potential for Cora exist, until she matured into ripeness? So when was the potential for Cora put into act? And how does Brian what’s-his-name come into all this? Is he the source of Cora’s actualization, or is he just another can-kicker?

        I’m really confused.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nope, the pipe smoker was my grandpa. My grandma stuck to cigarettes and both stuck to tobacco. I wish they hadn’t, because then maybe they’d both lived longer than they did.


  5. I had an involved debate a few years ago with someone who insisted that whether extraterrestrial life existed was an opinion rather than a fact.

    I said fact because it was a thing that *could* be proved, even if we can’t prove it right now.

    He said opinion because we don’t know one way or another (right now) so there’s no way to prove it (right now), which goes against the rules of fact v. opinion that I was taught in 4th grade.

    I felt on very uneasy ground, however, since my elementary school was terrible.

    Who was right?


    1. In common English usage, you don’t call a proposition a “fact” unless it’s broadly agreed to be true. “Extraterrestrial life exists” is a proposition that’s testable in theory, but it’s not really a fact until someone finds some. However, there’s a very important distinction between propositions that are falsifiable vs. those that are not, and that seems to be what you were after.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve always thought that people trying hard to prove the existence of God weren’t doing anything but showing the world that they had no faith. If you have faith, you don’t need proof.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. *SIGH* I’m a Christian and I believe in the existence of God and of Christ. I’ve never, ever felt any need to “prove” my belief to anyone (not even myself) as I consider even trying to do so is a pointless waste of time and energy. It’s purely a matter of faith, as Greg points out above. I’m comfortable with that faith.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Thing is, even if you somehow prove there was some force that started the universe (and the causal chain that eventually leads to the apple ripening), there’s no evidence that such a God has need to ever interfere again in the work or have any interest or involvement. So while you may have proven the existence of something, you have a long long long long way to go before you can declare you have proven the God of Christianity, or Jesus Christ, to exist.

    (I am a Christian Agnostic. I think there is some numinous spiritual thing out there that does care about us and want us to be our best selves and be decent to one another, and I best relate to it through some of the images and ideas of Christ that I was raised with, but I have no evidence of its existence, much less its opinion of being addressed through the songs, ideals and iconography of Christianity. This sometimes makes me feel more at odds with fellow Christians than if I were a strong believer of a different faith.)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. The ontological proof that doesn’t exist: A most perfect world would not include . A world which exists is more perfect that one that doesn’t, Therefore the world that exists does not include . Therefore does not exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I foolishly used angled brackets. Try again with different delimiters.

      The ontological proof that “internet crank of choice” doesn’t exist: A most perfect world would not include “internet crank of choice”. A world which exists is more perfect that one that doesn’t, Therefore the world that exists does not include “internet crank of choice”. Therefore “internet crank of choice” does not exist.

      Liked by 5 people

  10. Still at it, I see:

    “Atheism briefly gained some traction in the previous decade by plying the gullible with a world where they’d be free to indulge their vices with impunity. Their gains evaporated when even the less astute realized it was also a world without accumulated knowledge, electricity, or indoor plumbing.

    Having cataloged so much of it lately, I’m tempted to cite internet atheists’ sheer absurdity as a proof for God.”

    This chap seems to be reading an awful lot of theological significance into the existence of comment section arguments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an absurd argument on his part. A standard response is to say that if he requires God to restrain him from him vices then he’s a sociopath. I don’t much care for that one – I just assume that people who make that argument are liars, not full blown sociopaths. I’d rather point at the bits of Christian doctrine which can be twisted by bad actors as licence to indulge their vices with impunity.

      After divine hiddenness, theodicy, and bad Christian apologetics*, I’d place Christian immorality and creationism as 4th on the list for being an atheist in the West, Just look how the series of scandal have cratered Catholic belief in Ireland.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Could be an implied threat. “You might could reason with me to drop my delusions, but they’re the only thing that keeps me from a berserker rampage.”


  11. I challenge your assertion that you know Popeye is a man. “Sailor Man” could have the same connotation as “Lizard Man” from D&D, which includes both male and females of the species. Popeye could be a female example of “Sailor Man”. Therefore, God exists in not only the material but also the Fleischer sense.


    1. Fleischer’s adaptation is likely the best version we will ever get of off-the-page Popeye, but it’s still apocryphal and not even consistent with itself in some ways, even if we are careful to exclude the black and white Famous entries.

      Liked by 1 person

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