A Modal Ontological Argument

The argument looks like this:

  1. A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
  2. A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
  3. It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
  5. Therefore, (by axiom S5) it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
  6. Therefore, an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.

(NB: if X is possibly necessary, then it is necessary in some possible world. Or, in some possible world W’ it is true that it exists in all possible worlds.

So, X “expands” into all the possible worlds from W’, as opposed to from the actual world. But it makes no difference. Hence X exists in all possible worlds or is necessary. You need the right system of modal logic to make this conclusion. S5 works.)

However, why must we assume that (3) is correct? If maximal greatness is impossible, then it is impossible that any being has maximal excellence in every possible world: ~◊□(God exists) = □~□(God exists) = □◊(God does not exist) = there is a possible world in which God does not exist = (since God’s existence is possible) God is contingent.

Thus, the modal ontological argument starts by attempting to prove that God is necessary and from that concludes that God exists in the actual world. Doesn’t this seem like an overkill? Denying the crucial premise (3) does not lead to any absurdity but to a seemingly modest conclusion that God is a contingent being. And why can’t God be contingent? If He is contingent, then it is unclear whether or not He exists in the actual world, because the actual world may happen to be a possible world in which God exists, or it may happen to be a possible world in which God does not exist. So Plantinga’s argument does not work. What’s more, I don’t see how the modal ontological argument is at all equivalent to the Anselm’s original version of the argument.

We might be tempted to say that (3) is contingent. But simple modal transformations show that that’s not possible: either (3) is necessarily true, or it is necessarily false. At best we can say that it’s conceivable that God is necessary, and it’s conceivable that God is contingent. But we can’t say: God is possibly necessary and is possibly contingent.

Argument for God from “Nothingness”

Mises writes:

Negation, the notion of the absence or nonexistence of something or of the denial of a proposition, is conceivable to the human mind.

But the notion of an absolute negation of everything, the representation of an absolute nothing, is beyond man’s comprehension.

The Lord, teaches the Bible, created the world out of nothing; but God himself was there from eternity and will be there in eternity, without a beginning and without an end. …

It follows that scientific research will never succeed in providing a full answer to what is called the riddles of the universe.

It can never show how out of an inconceivable nothing emerged all that is and how one day all that exists may again disappear and the “nothing” alone will remain. (Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, 52-3)

Thus, nothingness is “inconceivable.” And it should be obvious that it is meaningless to talk about “complete nothingness.” Language itself falters. There “is” or “was” nothing? But when we use the verb “to be” we talk about existence. We cannot even say that “nothingness ‘is not’,” because is-not-ness, too, presupposes a non-existent essence, which still must have an ideal existence in somebody’s mind. A unicorn does not exist really, but it can exist ideally as, say, a phantasm, when we imagine it.

Nothingness is obviously a term of some kind, but it does not refer. The absence of both ideal and actual existence is therefore literally inconceivable, because one cannot conceive of something which cannot by definition be not only “out there” but in the mind, as well.

It may be objected that nothingness is indeed inconceivable, but it may still be possible. Start from “∀x” and delete from existence one object after another. At the end you will end up with nothing.

However, ∀x… iterates over actual things. Even if all such things were eliminated, there would still be ideal things, in particular necessary truths and possible worlds.

For example, under nothingness, it would still be true that 2 + 2 = 4; or that possibly, there exists a world just like the (formerly) actual world.

But the natural and proper place of ideal abstract objects is in a mind, being known by it. Now the human minds as real entities are contingent; and in fact we have one by one disappeared them, as per the procedure above. In addition, a human mind does not, by virtue of its mere potential infinity, know all possible worlds.

There must then be an actually infinite mind, call it G-mind, which exists necessarily and which knows and can contemplate all the necessary truths and all possibilities. Thus, such a mind cannot all of a sudden decide to disappear, because then we’d end up with “nothingness” which as we have seen is not at all meaningful.

The G-mind, too, is real, as distinct from its thoughts and propositions expressed by them. But we have banished all the reals. How does the G-mind escape destruction? Only if the subject-mind is numerically identical both to the object-understood (as all truths) and to the thought grasping these truths. In the G-mind, the ideal and the real coalesce. As we must retain all the ideals, the real G-mind is saved from certain doom, as it stays in existence by clinging perfectly tightly to the ideals against our attempts to produce nothingness.

And now, of course, we recognize that being as God.

Detecting Design Depends on Specified Complexity

Michael Behe's book Darwin's Black BoxOn infidels.org there appeared to me this random quote:

Mr. Behe has of course compared, like it or not, the extraordinary complexity of the human cell to the mousetrap. He said if we look at that mousetrap, it was created by a human.

In fact, Mr. Miller improved on it, as you saw earlier tonight. Therefore, if that’s complicated, then indeed the cell must also have been designed by an intelligence.

And as I thought about it tonight, it’s a little bit — we were all talking about nature analogies — it’s a little bit like looking at a mole build a molehill. You say, That’s very interesting. Then we walk out in the woods the next day and we notice a big mountain off in the distance. And we say, Good grief, that’s enormously large. A really big mole must have built that.

The truth of the matter is, it’s not logical. We should be looking for different forces that result in different things.

Your mousetrap was built by human hands because its components are inanimate objects. Cellular life is living, vibrant, breathing, changing matter.

You’re not just comparing apples to oranges, you are comparing plastic apples to organic oranges, and I think therefore this analogy fails. (Ken Miller in “Resolved: That evolutionists should acknowledge creation,” Firing Line, 4 December 1997, 50)

But wait a minute, the big mountain lacks specified complexity; it is not a machine; it performs no function; it does not move or do any work. There is no room for a design inference here.

Miller’s error is that he thinks that our abduction in the case of irreducibly complex biological systems is based on an analogy with man-made machines.

In fact, a mousetrap is an illustration of a principle according to which design can be reliably inferred in anything. That principle, (contingent) specified complexity, governs our speculations of the origins of both mousetraps and, say, bacterial cilia with equal authority.

However, if there is an argument from analogy here, it has in the following form:

(1) Everything that exhibits specified complexity and is such that we can find out independently whether or not it was the product of intelligent design, in fact was the product of intelligent design.

(2) Many biological systems exhibit specified complexity.

(3) Therefore, these systems are most likely the products of intelligent design.

Secondly, it is true that “cellular life is living, vibrant, breathing, changing matter.” That property — life, the soul, teleological causation, the vital principle that animates every living creature and makes it different from inanimate objects — is surely fascinating.

But life is something in addition to the molecular nanotechnology within a cell. Now ID focuses on these sophisticated robots only because they are scientifically tractable, as “life force” is not. And it is sufficient, ID proponents claim, given also the failure of evolutionists to offer anything interesting in response, to infer design.

Life, consciousness are far beyond the design-theoretic research program which is preoccupied with material objects carrying high information content. However, if anything, they make the case for design much stronger than it has so far been made, insofar as life cannot be reduced to matter, or consciousness to computation, and assuming that the origins of both cannot have been purely natural.

Perhaps Miller’s point is simply that life can change, unlike a mousetrap. But that’s where Behe’s irreducible complexity comes in. Even though life can change through random mutations, natural selection cannot build the systems Behe examines in his Darwin’s Black Box.

I Like William Godwin

“For Godwin, to express it with restraint, was an unusual man — as also were Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen; and the eccentric and bizarre always have a psychological fascination for the great unenterprising bulk of humanity, whose humdrum visages conceal no hidden weakness or waywardness.” (Gray, Socialist Tradition, 114)

I laughed heartily at the following: “There is no such thing as Free Will; as has already been noted, we are entirely the results of our environment: ‘my propensities are the fruit of the impressions that have been made upon me.’ In one of those extravagant phrases beloved of Godwin, ‘the assassin cannot help the murder he commits any more than the dagger.'” (130)

First, the plight of the assassin does not disprove “free will,” which is the power of choice, by which alternate courses of action are contemplated by the intellect and weighed by the will.

Second, free will’s compatibility with determinism means that what was determined was that the assassin would murder, not that he could not (or should not) help murdering.

The way the assassin, in the totality of his inner personality and the external influences on him, was before embarking on the murder was not enough to stop his evil deed. But it is precisely this moral ignorance/weakness/malice within him that is wicked.

For example, the assassin may have been aware of his duty not to murder; but future satisfaction of his desire tempted him to commit the crime despite the duty’s demand that he suppress his murderous urges and thereby cleanse his will.

Given my moral duty-driven internalism, I do not think there can be such thing as an amoralist who gives no weight to moral considerations in deciding what to do. The very meaning of the term “duty” intrinsically compels. Instead, there are just sinners.

R&D and Austrian Business Cycle Theory

James McClure and David Chandler Thomas (MT) discuss business research and development in connection with the business cycle. Certain industries feature considerable investments into R&D of novel technologies and products which becomes for the firms in such industries the earliest stage of production.

A peculiarity of this stage is that “entrepreneurs, engaged in new-product R&D and seeking ‘first mover’ advantage, have incentives to shroud their operations and discoveries in secrecy.” There are clear and fundamental benefits to this practice, i.e., the firms’ ability to enjoy short-term profits upon launch of products destined to be successful, but also “system-wide costs of entrepreneurial secrecy and the absence of competition-constraining price and production signals”: what the authors call superfluous discovery, duplicative discovery, and duplicative development.

The benefit of the ability of the first movers to obtain profits for a longer or shorter period of time before they are imitated exceeds the slight inefficiency of secrecy consisting in R&D featuring unrealized non-rivalrous consumption. Patents may be controversial, but surely, no one is advocating forcibly open-sourcing all trade secrets!

MT’s argument depends on an assumption that the new money made out of thin air will be invested into a single R&D-intensive industry. The “Schumpeterian swarm” will then have two causes: hot new technology and credit expansion.

Now the ABCT is a general theory. Even if the boom generates numerous new entrepreneurs in many different industries, they still compete with each other in the general sense, as for the consumers’ money. The eventual mass losses — it will be the bust that will reveal who exactly will be the losers — occur regardless through a combination of consequences of credit expansion / lower interest rates and inflation.

Note that the increase in both investment and consumption in money terms is an “absolute” effect. There is both over-investment and overconsumption. The fact that the overinvestment is induced by the Central Bank policy and is contrary to the interests of the consumers — who will not stand for it for long and will bring about the bust — qualifies to call it “relative” mal-investment or un-utilitarian misallocation of resources.

MT’s point is that there is an extra component to the bust as regards R&D, which is that there are higher chances that different firms’ efforts will clash with each other by resulting in a greater number of superfluous/duplicate R&D. With this effect it is even clearer how investments triggered by credit expansions never bear fruit, i.e., profit.

God Does Not Owe You Anything

A perfectly loving God, says J.L. Schellenberg, would ensure that a personal relationship existed between Him and every human being who would not, as God might foresee, refuse an offer of that relationship. But in order for a relationship to have a chance to develop, a person must first believe in the existence of God. But there is, he claims, such a thing as inculpable or reasonable non-belief. That God exists is not self-evident, and a person may without violating any epistemic duties hold that God does not, in fact, exist or at least that His existence is improbable. (4.7-9) But God would have overriding reasons not to permit inculpable non-belief. Hence God does not exist, etc.

Now there is a quote attributed, perhaps falsely, to Will Rogers:

There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading.

The few who learn by observation.

The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Suppose that I, entirely inculpably and innocently, indeed relieve myself on a naked electrified wire and fry to death. In this case, God will permit an inculpable death; why shouldn’t He allow something seemingly less consequential: inculpable non-belief?

It seems to me that God might at times not allow it only if non-belief entailed something much worse than physical death, but the only thing that comes to mind is the spiritual “second” death, i.e., damnation, eternal torment in hell. But non-belief, especially the inculpable kind, does not entail this, as any reasonable theist or even Christian will tell us. As a result, non-belief falls under the rubric of the general problem of evil and is amenable to treatment with similar theodicies as the problem of evil.

Regarding the more particular arguments in these papers, they are undone by bad theology.

First, Schellenberg assumes that God is a loving Father. In fact, of course, God is not our Father in this life:

a man is a hell-bound corpse in the state of corrupt nature:

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” (Mt 13:41-42);

slave of God in the state of pure nature:

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Mt 3:9);

servant of God in the state of grace:

“For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50); and

child of God only in the state of glory in heaven:

“The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7).

Second, it’s not an overriding purpose of God to achieve a loving relationship with a person; there are many other ends that living this life serves. I would warn our author not to ascribe definite intentions to God as regards His providence so casually.

Third, natural knowledge of God and thus generic theism by itself are insufficient for a loving relationship; one needs grace — faith, hope, charity, etc. — to build on top of nature. For example, Aristotle believed in a god that shared some features with the Christian God, but presumably lacked any such relationship. It is plain that God need not always bestow grace even upon a suitable pure nature to make one a Christian. Neither therefore is there any law that God is bound to obey that He must heal a given person’s nature from corrupt to pure so that the person becomes a theist.

Fourth, what evidence does our author adduce for the proposition that there exist honest seekers who are ultimately disappointed in their search for God? There isn’t even anecdotal evidence or case studies. It is ironic that Schellenberg mentions atheist philosophers who “have long since concluded that God does not exist and think the world is better off that way.” (419, italics added) These guys are supposed to be inculpable? It seems that their guilt is greater than that of an average run-of-the-mill unbeliever.

Pascal is quoted to the effect that “I look around in every direction and all I see is darkness,” but he was a devout Christian, at least after his night of fire, and it was precisely Pascal who said that

There are only three sorts of people: those who have found God and serve him;

those who are busy seeking him and have not found him;

those who live without either seeking or finding him.

The first are reasonable and happy, the last are foolish and unhappy, those in the middle are unhappy and reasonable.

It remains to add the 4th permutation to these: Schellenberg’s atheist philosophers are both foolish and happy, which is admittedly the mentality of an idiot or half-wit.

Just as a man is guiltier to the extent he rejoices in an evil done, so the atheistic philosophers, by “happily” paying no heed to God, make their intellectual errors more perverse.

This concludes my live-blogging of Martin & Monnier’s The Improbability of God.

Why God Is “Hiding”

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (S-A) argues that a decent God would present to His creatures much more powerful and incontrovertible evidence of His existence. My reply follows.

1) More evidence is impossible.

God is fundamentally unseen, even to angels in their purely natural state, except to a creature in the state of glory in heaven, and even there not comprehended. No amount of evidence in this world will cause God to be seen as He is, and therefore any evidence can be rejected by a sufficiently perverse individual. One reason God is hiding is to avoid putting such sickos though this trial, wherein they reject divine overtures despite God’s every attempt, and in so doing earn sure damnation for themselves.

2) More evidence is unnecessary.

In my view, evidence for God is not only adequate but optimal; thus, Moreland and Craig write:

If God were to inscribe his name on every atom or place a neon cross in the sky, people might believe that he exists; but what confidence could he have that after time they would not begin to chafe under the brazen advertisement of their Creator and even come to resent such effrontery?

Another problem with any such “brazen advertisement” is that arguments for God establish God’s attributes together with His existence. But what wisdom would we learn about God from a neon cross in the sky, other than that He won’t leave us alone even for a second?

It is clear that the neon cross would involve God into human affairs unbecomingly. Philosophical contemplation of nature leads to knowledge about God with sufficient force. S-A claims to have “refuted” various arguments for the existence of God, because he does not “see any ways to get around his criticisms.” (381) Well, I guess case closed.

3) More evidence would be counterproductive.

Moreland and Craig continue:

Of course, in order to believe in God, we must have belief that God exists. But there is no reason at all to think that if God were to make his existence more manifest, more people would come into a saving relationship with him.

Mere showmanship will not bring about a change of heart. (Lk 16:30-31)

Again, those who reject and hate God even upon firm conviction that He exists would incur great guilt. Perhaps God wishes to spare these wretches by taking a more subtle approach.

Thus, S-A should consider the possibility that he is not so much intellectually mistaken as morally corrupt.

4) Human glory is best earned and seen away from God.

Soul-making proceeds best when man is on his own, relying on his own wits and strength alone, rather than having God wait on his every whim and soothe his every failure.

5) Soul-making stops completely in heaven.

Being filled with the divine Light causes one’s personality to crystallize and one to be unable to improve.

The darkness within us is sometimes evil but more important, potency, what we can become. The Light fills one with bliss, but it also confirms one in his present self — it eliminates all darkness and prevents the possibility of further spiritual growth.

6) Sinners would be destroyed upon seeing God.

God’s showing himself to a sinner might destroy his very identity by forcing him to reject instantly his wicked desires and impulses. Such a radical change is dangerous. Each person must have the ability to improve slowly enough to remain himself.

I’d say that God has done rather well for us.

Drange Disses the Bible

It has, he says, contradictions! (375) What an original claim. No Biblical scholar though I am, his sole example of a contradiction is trivially disposed of. Drange complains that the law propounded in:

Lk 13:3, “if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did,” is not mentioned as a condition of salvation in

(1) Jn 3:16, “everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”; nor in

(2) Mt 25:46, “these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”; nor in

(3) Jn 5:29, “all will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.” (376)

Well, shiver me timbers.

(1′) Isn’t it obvious that believing in Christ is not merely dead faith? And that live faith requires repentance of sins, such that this repentance is an essential component of the life of practically every human being at whatever stage of spiritual development?

“Belief” is hardly merely an intellectual assent to some propositions, however true and important; it is a commitment to a holy life, as well:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)

(2′) The righteous will go away to eternal life, but repentance is necessary precisely for an unrighteous person to become righteous and to stay that way.

(3′) Those who have done good will rise to live, but repentance is a good done to oneself (and others, if we take repentance in a broader sense of atoning for past misdeeds rather than in a more narrow sense of rejecting evil and resolving to do or be good; see also Mt 5:23-24). Repentance is the first step toward turning one’s life around to do good.

Now if one is presenting an example to illustrate a supposedly self-evident thesis, namely, the fact that the Bible contains contradictions, then one would presumably lead with the most powerful card he has under his sleeve. But if that’s the best Drange can do, then the case for hopeless obscurity of the Bible, as Drange would have it, must be weak indeed.

Drange wishes that God had “listed the things you must do in order to be saved, followed by a clear list of actions.” (376) Well, we do have the Ten Commandments.

Jesus gave us the most general rules, applicable to everybody: love God and your neighbor. (Lk 10:27) He even illustrated them with the beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mt 5:9) He explained the meaning of the word “neighbor.” (Lk 10:29-37) He warned about hypocrisy. (Mt 23:28) He taught us an important prayer. (Mt 6:9-13) He revealed that God is a Trinity.

In any case, life is too complex for God simply to smother society in rules and regulations. Everyone’s life is different and requires different things. And many of those things we can indeed find out on our own, perhaps with the help of grace. If Drange wants “rules,” he is free to consult the penal code. I’ll bet that if God had done more, our professor would feel that his autonomy was in danger from the overabundance of rules he’d be supposed to follow.

In short, yes, a PhD in philosophy is useful in studying the Bible. But nobody was going to make Drange’s life easy for him. Theology, whether natural, systematic, moral, or whatever, is an arcane and difficult discipline which requires rigorous training, no different in this regard from any other science. Unfortunately, our author is arguably a dilettante.

Re: Argument from “Confusion”

I did not want to comment on this point, but this is the second time Drange proposes that “there are conceptual problems with the idea of a general resurrection of the dead” (348); “the very concept of an afterlife is… incoherent.” (373) How our author can make this claim while admitting evangelical Christianity as a premise in a different argument escapes me. For if Christianity is true, then there are most definitely an afterlife and resurrection that pointedly lack any “conceptual problems.” So this is by the way.

Drange claims that the “confusion” among Christians on many issues pertinent to salvation is ungodly. A good God would intervene to solve all such controversies. Sometimes, he says, an individual is confused in the sense of not knowing what to think; other times a group is, if there are conflicting opinions within it.

Drange overstates the case. For there is no confusion whatsoever about the articles of Christian faith. These, as put forward by, say, the Nicene creed, are accepted by all Christians.

There may be confusions about the nature of God, but we humans can work out natural theology ourselves without divine assistance.

There may be confusions about rational interpretations of the articles of faith, but coming up with these, too, is our own job, not God’s.

There may be confusions about morals. When it is natural morality, human philosophers need to do a better job.

When it is grace-enhanced morality, we can study the lives and teachings of the saints.

When it is due to personal sin clouding the mind, the confused person ought to repent and reform.

There may be confusion about the best Christian sect. I think the Catholic Church has unique advantages. But on its own, the sect one belongs to does not impinge on salvation.

In short, “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel.” (Sir 15:14) Whence then the pressing need for God’s further involvement?

Non-Sequitur of Non-Belief

Victor Cosculluela seeks to “bolster” Drange’s argument discussed in the previous post. Let

S = the situation of all, or almost all, humans since the time of Jesus of Nazareth coming to believe [in God and Christ] by the time of their physical death.

Drange assumes that God

(2) wants situation S, i.e., has it among his desires;
(3) does not want anything that conflicts with his desire for situation S as strongly as it. (363)

Drange gives Biblical evidence for these, which he says is strong for (2) and weak for (3). Cosculluela attempts to shore up the more vulnerable (3) by an “a priori” argument.

The idea is that if God wants X, then goods Y, Z, … set aside or sacrificed by God for the sake of X are not wanted at all, presumably since wanting the impossible is a defect. Now this is at the very least imprecise. Let’s say that A is a physical good ↔ A is loved and ought to be. X then would be such a good, but Y and Z would not: for though they, too, are loved, yet it’s not the case that they ought to be, since God rejected them. Cosculluela’s argument may be a point about divine psychology: God does not bother with mulling over forgone opportunities or pleasures inferior to the one chosen.

But then God has no conflicting desires. If He wants (2), then (3) is now very well justified.

I’ll make two objections to this argument.

First, (2) may be false despite its apparent reasonableness. For even if God might want it, perhaps it’s only as a means to an end. The ultimate end itself might be, say, for the greatest good for the greatest number (GG) to obtain. Perhaps instead of (2), God wants (2′) us to obey the natural law and respond to His grace. Or perhaps God wants (2”) for all men to heal their nature, who then, by cooperating with each other according to justice and economic laws, will build a glorious civilization, on earth as it is in heaven.

Second, and more important, assuming that (2) is true, and God’s end is fixed, nothing by that fact is determined with regard to means to this end. Perhaps the means that yields GG is for God to make a minimal investment (such as in Jesus’ apostles) and let human beings preach the Gospel themselves. As I suggest in the previous post, such an MO might maximize human merit and glory, and serve God’s ultimate purpose best.

We can see that Cosculluela’s argument is irrelevant.