Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A little proof of a personal God.

This is an excersize in one of the most reviled activities of either philosophers or theologians, atheists, agnostics, Catholics, whatever. Inevitably, the very words, "I think I may have a good argument for God," are bound to arouse reactions ranging from amused 'knowing' skepticism to open hostility--in the former case, when one, not having listened to a word of the argument, responds with, "My friend, as interesting as that was, you should know that we're long beyond that fad now; your argument is full of fallacies, and anyways wouldn't convince anyone" or in the latter case, when one prohibits any discussion, interjects, "You can't do that; why are you even trying?"

We have done such a good job of proving the impossibility of a "proof" of God that it has become a 1st Commandment of rational discourse. Whatever one may say about God--so long as he says it only amid his personal choir of agreeable friends--he may not suggest that anything could compell anyone to agree. And this is true totally of the orthodox Catholic, as well as the postmodern agnostic camp. The businesses of the sheer rational knowability of God's existence has been so long dominated by two full rows of immobile chess pawns, that for someone to break the ranks with a knight, he had better be a genius, or else sit the game out and let the greater minds defend the stalemate.

That. is. why. I. write. very. cautiously.

This is an argument. I doubt it is original; it certainly didn't come from nowhere. It's a barely empirical adaptation of Anselm, combining one single empirical observation with all of the rational deductions and necessities that Anselm implied with his ontological argument. It doesn't try to say very much--only that there is something (from here on, a 'What') which is necessary; and that this 'what', whatever its other qualities, has a free will.

I do believe that this argument is rationally valid, and that the premises are universally recognizeable to be true. To that extent, I am forwarding this argument--with every bit of expectation that it could be ripped to shreds by a smart atheist (or a smart Christian)--suggesting that those who bother to read it and understand it, may come to agree based on the force of the arguments alone.

Now. On with the premises.

1. There is being. This argument could take other grammatical forms: stuff exists; there are things; Being is, and so on and so forth. It's not too controversial.

2. Nothing is infinite. The atheists should be totally with me on this one. The believers will just have to trust me--after all, if God does exist, and he is infinite, he cannot be considered any thing, can he? Perhaps it will be argued that space and time (as commonly, i.e. Newtonianly conceived) are infinite. My response is, first, that the scientific jury is still out on that one, thanks to relativity and quantum physics and string theory and all that; and second, that even if they were, they would only be infinitely extended, not sheerly infinite. After all, space would be limited to its definition as space and not as anything else. Anything with a definition is thereby limited. The fact that we can mentally distinguish between space and time; or between these two things and the objects which are in them, but are not them, shows their limits. We can even conceive mathematically of non-space; we have given it a name: the point; and so with time--the instant. And though a point as no actual being in space, nor the instant in time (as Aristotle proved), we would not go very far without these things. Thus space and time must share the reality pie with the point and the instant.

3. Every limit implies what is beyond itself. Therefore, every limit logically requires something 'underneath' it in order to be intelligible, something that makes real both the 'inside' and 'outside' of the limit (even if the 'outside' is 'nothing'--after all, there is space, right?). Every orange circle requires paper (or something) underneath to see its edges, and the blank white beyond. This is true both of physical and extra-physical realities, as well as perceptual and unperceived realities. Every limit is unthinkable without something which makes the beyond thinkable. Every difference; which is to say, every physical travel, every moment in time, every mathematical formula, and every logical thought that follows the pattern of "not this, but that!"--or moreover, "not that, but nothing at all!" always and inescapably points down, down to the ground, the ground if this, that, or the other thing, or even the nothing. Something has to hold the something and the nothing together, so that a limit can exist.

4. Let's be reductionists. Everything boils down to... whatever you want. Quarks? Fine. How about strings? Or maybe, let's say, dreams and illusions. Berkeley's spirits and ideas! Matter in motion? OK. Phonotic energy of the Big Bang? I'm right there with you. Point is that, it is always possible for the human mind to think of everything as being just one kind of thing--the thing that is. You don't have to be very subtle or particular about it. But what it comes down to, when we have a one thing that is, and the story ends, is the last limited thing! This is the object of the feverish (and one suspects, Sisyphusian) quest of the physical sciences. But whatever that thing is, we can make one critical observation of it: it's limited! But what about time and space? I have not forgotten those either. Supposing they discover that this "last thing," and time, and space, are all actually the same thing, then that's great... but it will still be limited. Therefore...

5. There is necessary being. You all saw that coming. The atheists may still be with me, too. Nothing inherently offensive about necessary being. All it is, really, the unintelligible "what" which is behind, not merely being, but the very distinction between being and nothing. Underneath the limit between the only thing that is, and its opposite, is the ground of the possibility of them both. Thus, unintelligible as it is, we can make certain conclusions about it. For example, it can have no limits, either outside or inside of itself. That means it is infinite, eternal, one, undifferentiated, unchanging, unaffectable, undetectable, self-subsisting, etc. and so on. Of course, if these are all that it is, very few people are going to want to build churches about it and worship it.

6. This "what" is constituitive or generative of everything that is. Perhaps some people were tempted to consider this "what" to be just like a little table that everything else sat on. That's the problem with "ground of being" language--"yeah, sure, just the ground of all being, and the beings, co-existing for all eternity, happy together". Now that would be truly incomprehensible. Because beings--whether big beings or little beings or mental beings or the quarks, strings (whatever), are always and only ever interiorly constituted by something. In the ultimately fringes of our thinking, the only thing possibly constitutive of all those quarks-or-whatever, is the "what" itself. Now, I included two possible choices of words here: "constitutes" and "generates." If I know my theists and atheists well enough, I can bet dollars to donuts that the atheists are going to gravitate to "constitutes" and the theists are going to prefer "generates." For the moment it doesn't matter; I just wanted everyone to know I was thinking of them. Aren't I nice?

7. Limits are impossible.

8. [Woah, wait, hold on there!]

7. Limits are impossible. Yeah. It is kind of a necessary consequence of points #5 and #6. The 'what' generates/constitutes all being; but the 'what' itself is infinite, unbounded, necessary, and interally undifferentiated. Given this, how does one account for finite being? Is there a part of the 'what' which is not constituting other beings? Did it start to generate and then run out of steam? Who can figure out the fact that necessary being is infinite, but contingent being is not? If only some of the 'what' was constitutive/generative of being, then this would differentiate it from the rest of the 'what'; but this difference would necessitate a deeper 'what' to the two differently-behaving 'whats'. Let us be good Ockhamists--there is only one 'what'. And if it is unlimited, it can only generate/constitute unlimited being.

8. Being is impossible. Yeah. So how did we go from unlimited being to impossible being? The unlimited 'what' continuously constitutes/generates unlimited being. Yet this second unlimited being--unlimited as it is--in fact is always and everywhere equivalent to the first. The two are one--one 'what'. This might be very appealing to the mystical types. All is one. Everything is an illusion. We discover in spiritual mastery that, in fact, we are nothing, or we are I, the One. Yet there is one difficulty: there is no room for illusions anymore. Even illusions have their own being, but if illusions can be dissipated by meditation, then illusions have limits. Besides, illusions are always illusions of something, which raises the question of what an unlimited 'what' constituting/generating unlimited oneness has any business with dreams and illusions. Without limits, there is no plurality, no otherness, no difference, no-thing. In truth, there is no Being.

9. Because there is being, and there are limits, it follows that the necessary 'what' does not constitute/generate unlimited being. Rather, it constitutes/generates finite being. There is no logical explanation for this. By process of elimination, There is only one phenomenon accessible to us in all the possible rational, logical, empirical world we inhabit that could possibly account for finite being. Will.

10. To be completed at another time...

1 comment:

Jacob said...

An interesting argument and I like where its going. Check your e-mail for a blow-by-blow criticism/response.

However, you are getting caught up in the drama of presenting this argument. You make a few statements that are intentionally confusing (so it seems) to add to the effect, which really only serve to frustrate the point.

I'm looking forward to your next post.