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How to Perfectly Know the Existence of God

Summa

It's common today to hear both believers and nonbelievers claim that the existence of God is ultimately unknowable, or at least unprovable. According to this view, we're left to take a leap of faith, or else to go with the option we think is more likely.

Classical theism rejects this idea completely. It claims to be able to prove the existence of God - to be able to prove, in fact, that He can't not exist. And what's amazing is that these theists seem capable of following through on this promise. There are several of these non-probabilistic arguments for the existence of God, but one of the strongest (and most misunderstood) is the argument from contingency. This is presented in St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways in the Summa Theologiae, although Aquinas actually gives a better version of the same argument in the Summa Contra Gentiles.

To see how the argument works, let's define two of our terms, and then lay out the two syllogisms that get us to a sure knowledge of the existence of God.

What Do We Mean by “Contingent” and “Necessary”?

For this argument to make sense, we need to define a few terms; namely:

  • Contingent beings are those being that only exist under particular conditions. They don't have to exist, and they don't always exist. Rather, they come into existence under particular conditions, and require certain conditions to continue to exist. Humanity, for example, requires air, water, carbon, and a whole host of other things. If any of these variables ceased to exist, so would we. In other words, contingent beings are things that could not-be. They exist, but only because certain conditions are met.
  • Necessary beings are the opposite. They exist necessarily. Or, if you'll excuse the double negative, necessary beings couldn't not-be. If there were some set of circumstances in which these beings could cease to exist, then their existence would be contingent, and they'd be up there in the first group. This means that necessary beings aren't capable of generation or corruption (that is, of being born or dying).

With that in mind, let's consider the two arguments that bring us to a sure knowledge of the existence of God:

Argument I: Something Necessary Exists

Step 1: We see in the world some things that can be and not-be.

In other words, we see contingent things all around us. We see birth and death, both in the literal sense for organic matter, and in the metaphorical sense: we see galaxies come into, and go out of existence, for example.

This should raise a question for us: Why is there something, rather than nothing? After all, seemingly everything we see could not-be. Keep that question in mind.

Step 2: Everything contingent has some other cause for its being.

Under particular circumstances, a tree will exist. But if those conditions aren't there, the tree will never come into existence; or, if it already exists, it'll go out of existence. So, for example, if the soil temperature suddenly increased a thousand degrees, your tree would quickly blink out of existence. But this means that the tree isn't the cause of its own being. If it were, it could never not-be, and would exist necessarily, not contingently.

And of course, this point isn't limited to trees. It's true of every contingent being, including you and I, the cosmos, etc. So if you say that X is a contingent being, then some conditions (Y) must exist for X to exist.

Step 3: This can't go on infinitely.

If X requires Y to exist, and Y requires Z to exist, you can't just draw that chain out infinitely. At some point, you must arrive at something that does exist, and isn't dependent upon something else for its existence.

Another way to approach this question: what conditions are necessary for you to exist right now? We're talking about the kind of conditions that you literally can't live without, here and now. And there can't be an infinite number of them, or you (and everything else) wouldn't exist.

The branch you're sitting on may be connected to another branch, but at some point, it needs to meet up with something grounded, like a trunk. You can't just have an infinite chain of branches dangling in the air. If literally everything is contingent, there's nothing capable of bringing it from non-existence into existence, or keeping it in existence.

Conclusion: There must be something necessary.

If there's nothing necessary, you end up with the logically-impossible infinite regress described in step 3. So there must be something that can't not exist.

Shrewd atheists will sometimes object at this point that this doesn't prove God. They're right; at this point, we've just shown that at least one thing can't not exist. That could be God, or gods, or angels, or a Demiurge, or matter, or mathematical laws... or more than one of these things.

So we haven't proven monotheism yet. But we've still made some headway: many of the popular atheistic cosmologies actually fail to clear this first hurdle: they assume a universe in which everything comes about under the right conditions, but don't have anyway of accounting for those conditions (or hold that those conditions require other conditions, and so on...).

To get from “something necessary” to “God” requires a second line of argumentation.

Argument II: God Exists

Step 1: Every necessary being either (a) has its necessity caused by something outside of itself, or (b) doesn't.

As Aquinas put it, “every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not.”

What does this mean? Well, imagine a universe in which there were seven eternal angels. Incapable of being born or dying, they're in the category of necessary beings. But we're still left asking, why do these angels exist? The fact that they can't be born or die doesn't finish our inquiry, because it doesn't give an account of their existence. There could just as easily be a universe with a thousand such angels, or none.

So the necessity of these angels is caused by something else: some external cause must exist to account for their timeless existence. They're in category (a).

Step 2: If all necessary beings were in category (a), you would have an infinite regress.

This is a parallel line of argumentation to what we saw in steps 2-3 of Argument I. If everything depends on something else for its existence, how does anything exist?

Step 3: Therefore, not every necessary being has its existence from another. A necessary being exists who has its necessity through itself and so is the cause of the necessary being of any other necessary thing – which being all call “God.”

Let's unpack those conclusions, one by one:

  1. A necessary being exists who has its necessity through itself: In other words, Something not dependent upon anything at all to exist. This Something literally can't not exist, in this or any possible universe. (If its existence was contingent upon a particular type of universe, we'd be right back in the infinite regress problems detailed above).
  2. A necessary being who is the cause of all other necessary (and contingent!) things: Everything else we've talked about—you and me and all contingent realities, as well as all the necessary realities in category (a)—depends, either directly or indirectly, on this Something to exist. In other words, if this Something didn't exist, everything would instantly blink out of existence.
  3. This Something is Unlimited Being: This is implicit, but I wanted to draw it out explicitly. When we're talking about Something that exists necessarily, and isn't determined by anything else, we're talking about Something whose being is necessarily limitless. (If its being were limited by some external cause, where does that cause come from?)
  4. This Something is what we call “God”: For those used to thinking of God as a created being, perhaps this seems like a big jump. But we've arrived at the existence of a Something that exists by definition, and exists as “pure Being” or “unlimited Being.” And that's the best definition of God, and the definition of God that He gives (see below).

What's brilliant about this is that we're not left with a probabilistic argument for God. We're not left saying, for example, “given how complex the universe is, it's 99% likely that it was designed by a deity” or something. Rather, we've concluded to a God that must exist, who literally can't not exist. And this conclusion both establishes God's existence, and starts to tell us something about Him.

Of course, it's important to realize the limitations of our approach. Necessarily, we're limiting ourselves to what we can know by reason alone. After all, it would be terribly circular to argue that God exists because the Bible says He does, and we can trust the Bible because God inspired it, etc.

That restriction really is a handicap, because certain things about God can only be known by revelation. For example, you could never arrive at the Trinity from reason alone. Indeed, if everything about God could be known fully by reason alone, there would hardly be any reason for revelation. So unaided reason gets us to the doorway, to see that there is a God. To find out more about this God, we need to let Him introduce Himself.

And quite fascinatingly, when He does so, in Exodus 3:14, it's as YHWH, “I AM WHO AM.” In other words, what we see in revelation corresponds perfectly to what we concluded to by reason alone: a God who exists by definition, and whose existence accounts for the existence of everything else in the universe.
 
 

Joe Heschmeyer

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Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • Joe,

    Thanks for the article, and for some excellent arguments for God's existence.

    I'll post something responding to the arguments themselves later, although I find arguments for the necessary being the most convincing arguments for God; I'm a believer in the principle of sufficient reason.

    For now, I want to point out a pitfall that some who read your article may fall into. Conflating necessity with certainty. Some people, including some immanent philosophers, have in the past treated necessity and certainty as though they are the same thing, but this connection is far from obvious.

    In fact, it seems as though there are clear counter-examples, things that are necessary but not certain, and things that are certain but not necessary.

    Necessary but not Certain: Goldbach's conjecture, that every even number greater than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two prime numbers. No one knows if it is true or false. But if it's true, it's necessarily true, and if it's false, it's necessarily false. And it is one way or the other, even though we don't know which one. Goldbach's conjecture is something that's not certainly true or false, but it's necessarily true or necessarily false.

    Certain but not necessary: I'm thinking about ice cream right now. I'm certain I am. No doubt. But it's not necessary that I'm thinking about ice cream. I could have been thinking about many different things.

    The arguments you present, if valid and sound, show that a necessary being exists. But they don't provide certainty. It's possible that the arguments are wrong.

    Best,
    Paul

    • Joseph Heschmeyer

      Paul,

      Thanks, and brilliantly put. Your examples make the necessary / certain distinction quite clear, and you're right that I didn't make that distinction very clear in the original post.

      To clarify: my position is that since the necessity of God's existence is knowable, this is certain knowledge.

      But you're right that this involves two conditions -- (i) God's existence is necessary, and (ii) we know of this necessity -- whereas other things (like Goldbach's conjecture) meet only the first of these two conditions.

      • Thank you for the clarification. I think that this is much closer to capturing the difference between necessity and certainty. But I think there are still exceptions to your two conditions.

        Here's one counter example for your two conditions. For this example, knowledge is taken to mean "justified true belief."

        There may be a computer that spits out large numbers that it claims are prime. A small (but statistically significant) handful of these numbers have been tested, and it turns out that 99% of the tested numbers are certainly prime and 1% are certainly not prime.

        The computer spits out a number and Alice picks it up. Alice believes that the number is prime. Alice is justified in this belief. She has a 99% chance of being right, after all. Now, imagine that the number is indeed prime (and therefore necessarily prime). Alice has a justified true belief that the number is prime, so she knows the number is prime.

        Alice knows that the number is prime. The number is necessarily prime. Alice is not certain that the number is prime.

        I can be rationally certain that a statement is true* if and only if I have a valid argument for the truth of that statement and the premises of the argument are either self-evident or are shown to be certainly true.

        The premises of the contingency argument for God do not seem to be universally self-evident and have not yet (to my knowledge) been derived from self-evident premises. For example, many philosophers reject the principle of sufficient reason. The contingency argument for God may give good reason to think God exists. But it doesn't provide certainty that God exists, or at least, I don't see how it provides certainty.

        *Edited to add, I can also be rationally certain that a statement is true if the statement itself is self-evident.

        • "There may be a computer that spits out large numbers that it claims are prime. A small (but statistically significant) handful of these numbers have been tested, and it turns out that 99% of the tested numbers are certainly prime and 1% are certainly not prime.

          The computer spits out a number and Alice picks it up. Alice believes that the number is prime. Alice is justified in this belief. She has a 99% chance of being right, after all. Now, imagine that the number is indeed prime (and therefore necessarily prime). Alice has a justified true belief that the number is prime, so she knows the number is prime.

          Alice knows that the number is prime. The number is necessarily prime. Alice is not certain that the number is prime."

          I'm not sure this all holds. You say, for example, that "Alice knows knows the number is prime." But even if she would agree with that statement, it's simply not true. At best, she would believe the number is prime based on a probability. She could only legitimately claim, "There is a very high likelihood the number I hold is prime, but I can't know with certainty until I see the number."

          To "know" something is not to believe it with probabilistic likelihood. It is, as you rightly noted in the beginning of your comment, to hold a "justifiably true belief" (as opposed to a "justifiably likely belief").

          As Joe noted in the outset of his post, what he present here is not a likely case for God based on probability, as in your example, but a logical case for God based on metaphysical necessity.

          Because of that crucial distinction, your example is not analogous to Joe's argument, in the relevant sense.

          "The premises of the contingency argument for God do not seem to be universally self-evident and have not yet (to my knowledge) been derived from self-evident premises. For example, many philosophers reject the principle of sufficient reason."

          The fact that some philosophers--I would challenge your "many"--reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) does not mean it fails to be self-evident. It may be self-evident, but they still deny it irrationally or unjustifiably.

          Yet the PSR is held by virtually all people, in practice, including all scientists, for the whole scientific enterprise depends on the PSR. Without it, there would be no science.

          "The contingency argument for God may give good reason to think God exists. But it doesn't provide certainty that God exists, or at least, I don't see how it provides certainty."

          The point Joe was trying to make is that a logical argument proving the metaphysical necessity of some entity is all or nothing. Either the argument is sound, and we can have certainty about its conclusion, or the argument is unsound and the conclusion is doubted (or at least questioned.) There's no middle ground as with probabilistic arguments.

          • The definition I used for knowledge is "justifiable true belief". Probability justifies the belief, and the belief happens to be true, so it's knowledge.

            It seems absurd to think that all knowledge must be certain knowledge. If there's even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent chance that I could be wrong, then it's not knowledge.

            If that's true, that knowledge is only certain, and that any probability that I'm wrong means it's not knowledge, then here's a list of things I don't know:

            (1) I don't know that atoms exist.
            (2) I don't know that there's a Higgs Boson.
            (3) I don't know that evolution happened.
            (4) I don't know that the sun's a star.
            (5) I don't know that Gravity won't just turn off tomorrow.
            (6) I don't know anything about chemistry.

            The list could go on and on. In fact, under your seemingly absurd definition of knowledge, there would seem to be virtually no scientific knowledge at all, since virtually all scientific claims are probabilistic and therefore uncertain.

          • One more thing:

            The point Joe was trying to make is that a logical argument proving the metaphysical necessity of some entity is all or nothing. Either the argument is sound, and we can have certainty about its conclusion, or the argument is unsound and the conclusion is doubted (or at least questioned.)

            But it doesn't have to be all or nothing. I do not know whether the premises of the first part of the argument are true or not. I think that the premises are probably true. In that case, the argument does not provide certainty that a necessary being exists, but makes a strong case that a necessary being likely exists. The argument is valid and the premises are, as far as I know, likely to be true.

            For someone who believes he's certain of all the premises in part one and two, he'll believe he's certain that God exists. He'll believe he's certain. But his certainty (imagined or real) doesn't help me int he slightest. I don't have it.

        • Linus2nd

          False analogy. Man is not a computer. God must exist according to the argument. This is a certainty. For if he doesn't neither would anything else exist. If there is such a thing as absolute certainty, this would be as near to it that pure reason can get. It can be topped only by the absolute certainty of Revelation.

          • George

            Why do you think the revelation is true?

    • Gray Striker

      Thanks for the article, and for an excellent argument for
      God's existence.I find arguments for the necessary being the most
      convincing arguments for God; I'm a believer in the principle of
      sufficient reason.

      Well then.....would you say that you are leaning more toward believing that there is a being. an actual god, creator entity rather than not? A lot of us respect your comments, opinions and insight out here.....and would really like to know which way you actually lean. because you do seem more than just a tad vague at times, as is your prerogative of course.
      Respectfully.....Gray.

      • Well then.....would you say that you are leaning more toward believing
        that there is a being. an actual god, creator entity rather than not?

        It's a fair question, but I can't answer it, because I don't know what the answer is myself. I find arguments like this contingency argument the most convincing, but even these I don't find entirely convincing (as you can probably figure out from my other comments here).

        I think it is likely enough that God exists, that I try to live as though he does. I go to church pretty regularly, pray daily, try my best to follow a Christian ethic, celebrate the seasons; anything that doesn't violate my integrity (I don't say the creeds or take communion, for example, since I don't really believe in what the creeds say or what the communion signifies).

        I'm not convinced God exists, not 100% convinced, not even 50% convinced, really, but I think the existence of the Christian God is great enough that I'll try to live as though he's there. And I'll actively keep looking, poking, questioning, trying to figure it out, until the I find satisfactory answers one way or the other, or until I'm dead, whichever comes first.

        • materetmagistra

          Your comment speaks to me. I was there. [Thinking I could not even be a Christian because my intellect could not be certain Christ existed.]
          Finally began attending Church (Catholic) with my family, as I realized that my presence, for the family, was necessary to being a family. I was silent, though, during the creed.
          We met and began to spend time with other families from Church. I saw a richness, a grace, that swelled in and among them - a goodness - that flowed from living AS IF the Catholic Faith were entirely true.
          I had nothing to lose and much to gain - so I tried it. I opened my heart and willed belief in He who my intellect could not entirely grasp. At first I simply loved (as an act of the will) that which I easily related to - He who must be the Truth. But, that simple act, a movement of the will to trust in God, made all the difference. It didn't happen overnight, but faith came. It truly worked in this manner (as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 158) :"Faith seeks understanding":33 it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love. The grace of faith opens "the eyes of your hearts"34 to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of God's plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the center of the revealed mystery. "The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood."35 In the words of St. Augustine, "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe."36
          33 St. Anselm, Prosl. prooem.:PL 153,225A.
          34 Eph 1:18.
          35 DV 5.
          36 St. Augustine, Sermo 43,7,9:PL 38,257-258.

          • William Davis

            "“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” Gautama Siddharta
            Belief is a powerful thing isn't it? The most consistently effective medicine is placebo. Too bad we can't harness the power of belief without the side effects. I often check the comment history of people I chat with just to get an idea of who I am dealing with. I'm glad this faith has done so much for you. I just ask that you don't hold it against me that I do not share it :)

          • materetmagistra

            @Willliam Davis: "What we think we become."

            Hmm. Then, how could I move past atheism? That's all I "thought"....all I accepted.....all I knew/had to argue with. I did not have any desire to become Catholic, or to even know God. I plain didn't care.

          • William Davis

            Reread the comment I just replied to. The brain is plastic my friend, you changed your environment, social pressures, ect. Psychology has pretty much proven that emotion drives the human brain, reason follows. I'm emotionally attached to marveling at the mysteries of the universe from the scientific perspective. I've found great comfort and emotional solace in buddhist teachings and meditation, though I'm not exactly a buddhist. I was raised in an emotionally and physically abusive protestant church. I don't doubt that the last ruined Christianity for me, but I've done everything in my power to overcome that last. I've had mental problems (anxiety depression) until I found buddhism, and I found Buddhism through reading books on psychology and depression. You see I am religious, and appreciate your faith, I just wish there was a way to detach the requirement of belief. I'm still surrounded by Christians (90% protestant) and I'd like to participate, but when I look deep inside, I find I think I'm past believing. I don't look at this as some kind of achievement, just an internal truth.
            I enjoy the religious experience, that feeling of being connected to everything. You can call it God or whatever you want, but it is a powerful experience. I go there sometimes when I meditate, there are different places I can go. I hate so many miss out on this poignant part of the human experience. I see you are not, and I'm glad :)

          • materetmagistra

            @William Davis: " I just wish there was a way to detach the requirement of belief."

            My personal experience is that it cannot be done. I have experienced this exact thing (from my post above): "At first I simply loved (as an act of the will) that which I easily related to - He who must be the Truth. But, that simple act, a movement of the will to trust in God, made all the difference. It didn't happen overnight, but faith came. It truly worked in this manner (as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 158) :"Faith seeks understanding":33 it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith, and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love. The grace of faith opens "the eyes of your hearts"34 to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of God's plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the center of the revealed mystery. "The same Holy Spirit constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood."35 In the words of St. Augustine, "I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe."3633 St. Anselm, Prosl. prooem.:PL 153,225A.
            34 Eph 1:18.
            35 DV 5.
            36 St. Augustine, Sermo 43,7,9:PL 38,257-258.

            This book might resonate with you: Jacob's Ladder: Ten Steps to Truth by Peter Kreeft.

          • William Davis

            Maybe I'll check out the book. Thanks for the conversation.

  • I think that the argument from contingent beings to a necessary being is very compelling. It's the most convincing argument for God's existence that I know of.

    Still, it runs into some problems (hopefully solvable problems; it's a nice argument), which make me less than confident in its success. I'll point out only one here, the biggest problem I see with this argument from contingency.

    When we think about things that have an explanation, either that explanation is in themselves or in something else. If the explanation for a thing is in itself, then it can be no other way than it is.

    We see eight planets, and it seems there could be seven or nine, and it seems a legitimate question to ask "why eight"? Why this way and not another? Since we can ask the question, and it doesn't seem as though there's any rule that there has to be eight, the number of planets is something that will find its explanation outside itself.

    Let's now look at God. God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, in one being. It seems as though we can ask, why three? Why not four? Why not two? It doesn't seem to involve a logical contradiction for God to be two people instead of three. The Jews believe that God is one person, and there's no obvious logical contradiction that they've found. Since we can ask the question, and it doesn't seem as though there's any rule that there has to be three, something about God appears to have an explanation outside God.

    So God, at least the Christian God, doesn't look much like a necessary being at all.

    Maybe you can say, well, this only appears contingent. It's really necessary, for deep reasons that we don't know. Fine. Maybe the universe only appears contingent. Maybe it's really necessary, every thing about it a necessary truth, for reasons we don't know.

    The argument from contingency seems aimed more at a mathematical truth than an active agent, since active agents at least seem on the face of it as though they could have been different, and mathematical truths can't have been different. God cannot make a world where 7 isn't prime. But God (it seems) could have been a quadrinity.

    • Steven Dillon

      I think Paul is definitely on to something here. While I'm a firm proponent that God's existence can be demonstrated, it could only ever be shown with probability that God is a Trinity. That is, there are no metaphysical demonstrations that the Bible is inspired or inerrant, and even if there were, that it teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.

      That said, I do think -- as implied above -- it necessary that God be as classically conceived; or in other words that things like intellect, will, immateriality and immutability be attributable to God. But, the reasons for holding this would take us far afield from the 3rd Way.

    • Jon Fermin

      however this is a larger leap than what the article claims. the article does not make any claim whatsoever that the argument from contingency can prove a trinity, rather it quite plainly says that the idea of a trinity comes from revelation rather than pure reason. Pure reason can lead a mind to deism at best, as for matters such as the trinity, that is something that could only be definitively answered from the mind of God Himself.

      • It doesn't need to. If I take the argument seriously, then i can say that whatever necessary being there is can't be the Christian God, because the Christian God has contingent properties: e.g. the Christian God is three people, but could have been two or four.

        If someone argues that the Christian God doesn't have contingent properties for reasons we don't understand, then I can argue that the universe doesn't have contingent properties for reasons we don't understand.

        • Linus2nd

          Wrong on several accounts. Thomas explains the nature of his philosophical God with Question 3 of the S.T. and following. This discussion establishes that, if a real God exists, it must have these properties. And the Christian God has these properties. Therefore, Thomas' philosophical God is the God of Christianity, since there can only be one God.
          The Christian God is three Persons, but one God. But these three Persons can only be known by Revelation. Even though there are three Persons, there is only one God.
          Linus2nd

          • Why three? Why not four or two?

          • Linus2nd

            This is not a philosophical question. However, three persons are revealed in God's Revelation and is declared Dogmatically by the Catholic Church.

          • But is this a contingent property of God or a necessary one?

            If contingent, then we can legitimately ask why God is three persons and not four or two.

            If necessary, then we have an example of a property that is necessary but doesn't seem necessary. Maybe all the properties of the universe are necessary but don't seem necessary. Maybe the universe itself is the Necessary Being.

          • Linus2nd

            Since this is a matter of revelation it is a necessary relationship of each Person to the godhead. Person is not a property because God has no properties. In God all the " properties " we attribute to him are identical to the God's very being, they are not accidents or properties.

            Though distinct as Persons or Hypostasises, they one in nature/substance. See paragraphs 240 & 252 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
            http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P17.HTM

            Linus2nd

          • Regardless of how you want to cash it out, it appears as though God is an arbitrary number of people. It seems reasonable, assuming God exists, to wonder why God is three people, and not two or four. In a similar way that it seems reasonable to wonder why the electron has a charge of e, and not 2 e or 1/2 e.

            Maybe God is necessarily three people. He couldn't not be three.

            Maybe the electron necessarily has a charge of e. It couldn't have a charge of 1/2 e or 2 e.

          • Linus2nd

            God necessarily exists as Thomas Aquinas demonstrates in six or more ways. And of course the principle of sufficient reason demonstrates this as well. That he is necessarily three Persons and not more or less is known with absolute certitude through Revelation and as Defined by the Catholic Church. But the knowing that he is three Persons is a matter of faith. And one has to be open to that.

            Pax
            Linus2bd

          • Roman

            To say that God is a necessary being is to say that he has no contingent properties..

            If necessary, then we have an example of a property that is necessary but doesn't seem necessary

            I think you would agree, however, that even if it doesn't appear necessary to you, that doesn't prove that it is not necessary in some way. I think that just as we don't know or understand all of the laws of science that govern the material world, its reasonable to expect that we don't know or fully understand everything about the author of those laws - hence the need for divine revelation. That being said, I think that the Catholic church has developed a good theological explanation of the Trinity that while not necessarily a "proof" does help us to see why the existence of 3 persons follows naturally from the definition of God. For a more detailed presentation of this explanation I recommend Frank Sheed's classic "Theology for Beginners". I'll summarize briefly. I assume that you can see why a personal God would be at least one person, so the question is why not 2 or 4, but 3? In the first Chapter of John's Gospel, St. John tells us that the second person of the Trinity is the "Word" of the first person. "Word" translated from the Greek "Logos" ,i.e., the sum total of ideas and the intelligible world, or the power that upholds the world and the law that determines its development. So, if God (the first person) utters this word, it exists in the mind of God since he has no mouth - he's pure spirit. As Frank Sheed asks.."What idea produced in God's mind could be God?" Christian thinking saw early it could be only the idea God has of himself. But if God is infinite, eternal, all powerful and perfect, the idea of himself must also be all of those. Since God is God, his idea of himself is God. The Father (first person) knows and loves, so his idea of himself knows and loves. Therefore the idea is a person, i.e., the 2nd person. The thinker and the idea are distinct but they are not separate (i.e., they have the same nature)..Between thinker and idea, there is an infinite dialogue, an infinite interflow. Father and son love each other with infinite intensity. They unite to express their love and that expression is a third divine person, the holy spirit. The link between life and love is not hard to see. The deepest form of love is a total self giving, and so a giving of life. The nature of God can be wholly expressed as a thinker, i.e., a mind, wholly expressed as idea, wholly expressed as lovingness.

          • Drew Fruend

            I'm going to be completely honest here, and remain as respectful as possible- I don't like telling people that they're flat out wrong, because I myself was a hardcore atheist who did that quite a bit before I discovered philosophy, but what I want to point out is that a lot of atheist arguments can he pretty accurately painted as a picture of a man being hunted. Once the man is run down he does everything he can to plead and fight for a second chance at life. It seems that every atheist argument I read simply seems to be running from an undeniable reasonability of the observable environment.

            I recently have had atheist workmates debate with me. I've given the argument from motion and asked simple questions. Every answer was matter explaining matter explaining matter, and then when that couldn't suffice energy and forces like gravity and polarity come into play. Disproving god seems to be a game of hide and seek in which the hider denies that the seeker is even a part of the game once he's been found.

          • Threesides

            So this god is made up of 3 persons? These 3 persons are necessary for this god to exist?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      why three? Why not four?

      Since First Mover is unique, it is the primary actualizer of all powers seen in the world. Since a thing cannot give what it does not have, either formally or eminently, First Mover must contain something at least analogous to these powers, and is hence all-power full, meaning full of all powers.

      In particular, it contains something analogous to the intellect and will possessed by rational beings. This justifies us calling First Mover "he" (or "she" if you like. That's a different conversation.)

      The motion of the intellect proceeds from subject to object. The procession of the intellect is called "conception" and such conceptions are expressed in words. First Mover in the act of knowing himself is called the Father (as he is the generator of conception). First Mover as the object of being known is called the Word, or as being conceived by the Father: the Son. The Word is the Only-Conceived.

      The motion of the will also proceeds from the subject (again, the Father) to the object. The procession of the will is desire or longing for the conception of the intellect. This desire or longing is called the Spirit. It is said to "proceed" from the Father, rather than to be "conceived" by the Father.

      Since First Mover is a) unique and b) not composed of parts (by other arguments not reproduced here), the Father, Word, and Spirit cannot be separate beings, but comprise one being.

      Because there are no other movements of reason, there are only two processions and hence only three hypostases.

      Summa theologica I.Q27.et seq.
      http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FP/FP027.html#FPQ27OUTP1

      • This I think is a good attempt at trying to show that God must be three people and not four or two. It's on par with Spinoza's attempt to show that there are no contingent facts in the whole of the universe. Both suffer from the problems of apparent arbitrariness. But maybe these problems can be resolved.

        The arbitrariness can be cast in the form of questions: Can you prove that there are only two movements of reason? Or that God must express all and only those two movements? Why must there be only one proceeder? Why not two, or three? Why only one son? Why not a daughter instead?

        Maybe I think that there is only one movement of reason, or maybe I think that there are five (and if pressed, I'm sure I can make up lists and distinctions of that sort; five ways to reason or simply one).

        But even if somehow you could show that God has to be three people (a task that has yet to convince the Jews or the Muslims), there's other seeming contingencies about God. For example, does God have a choice in how to make the world? If not, is God really an agent instead of a mindless force? If God does have a choice in how to make the world, where do the reasons for his decision come from? If the explanations come only internally, then God can't make any other choice than the one he made. If God could make another choice, then either it seems as though some of God's actions don't have an explanation (violating the principle of sufficient reason), or that the explanation lies outside of God (and then God has contingent properties).

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          You are welcome to make actual arguments for all those things rather than simply toss off rhetorical questions.

          Of course, the argument is not that God is three "people," but that there are three hypostases in God, not the same thing at all. (Plotinus, a pagan, made a similar argument for a triune God, though on different principles.)

          As to whether there are more than two movements in a rational agent, the "processions can be derived only from the actions which remain within the agent. In an intellective nature, these actions are two: the acts of intellect and of will (intellective appetite). The act of sensation, which also appears to be an operation within the agent, takes place outside the intellectual nature, nor can it be reckoned as wholly removed from the sphere of external actions; for the act of sensation is perfected by the action of the sensible object upon sense. It follows that no other procession is possible in God but the procession of the Word, and of Love.

          Why must there be only one proceeder? Why not two, or three? Why only one son?

          IOW:
          Objection 3: Further, in God there is greater power of fecundity than in us. But in us there is not only one procession of the word, but there are many: for in us from one word proceeds another; and also from one love proceeds another. Therefore in God there are more than two processions.

          Reply to Objection 3: As above explained (Q14, Art., 5; Q19, Art. 5), God understands all things by one simple act; and by one act also He wills all things. Hence there cannot exist in Him a procession of Word from Word, nor of Love from Love: for there is in Him only one perfect Word, and one perfect Love; thereby being manifested His perfect fecundity.

          Why not a daughter instead?

          "Daughter" does not work as a metaphor. Poetically, God engenders the world, but is not a recipient of any action.

          • Of course, the argument is not that God is three "people," but that
            there are three hypostases in God, not the same thing at all.

            Would you care to explain the difference?

            processions can be derived only from the actions which remain within the agent. In an intellective nature, these actions are two: the acts of intellect and of will (intellective appetite).

            Ah, but I may think that there are many more acts: the act of considering, and mulling over, and determining, and feeling (of course!) and guessing and expecting and adopting. None of these seem obviously more or less fundamental than will and intellect, and some of these don't seem to be part of either.

            And why does it need to be just acts? Why not dispositions? Depending on how things are divided up, God could be many people (or have many hypostates).

            Also, what about the act of creation? Did God really have a choice in the matter?

  • Chris Townsend

    What's the difference between a necessary being that relies on an external necessary being for its existence and a contingent being that relies on an external factor (like air, food, etc.) for its existence?

    • "What's the difference between a necessary being that relies on an external necessary being for its existence and a contingent being that relies on an external factor (like air, food, etc.) for its existence?"

      Good question, Chris! The difference is that the first being is a self-contradiction, and the second is not. A necessary being cannot rely on anything for its existence—including "an external necessary being"—or it would fail to be necessary. If a being relies on something else to exist then it is, by definition, contingent.

      A being cannot be both necessary and contingent at the same time, in the same respect.

      • Chris Townsend

        See, that's what I was thinking. That's why I'm confused by this part of Joe's article:

        "As Aquinas put it, 'every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not.'

        What does this mean? Well, imagine a universe in which there were seven eternal angels. Incapable of being born or dying, they're in the category of necessary beings. But we're still left asking, why do these angels exist? The fact that they can't be born or die doesn't finish our inquiry, because it doesn't give an account of their existence. There could just as easily be a universe with a thousand such angels, or none.So the necessity of these angels is caused by something else: some external cause must exist to account for their timeless existence."

        Joe then continues to argue that when it comes to necessary beings, their necessity must be caused by a necessary being that is self-contained. Why is this different from contingency? Is it because the necessary "self-contained" being is incapable of not existing, unlike the factors that contingent beings rely on? I apologize if I'm missing something, I'm just trying to make sure I understand the argument better.

        • I think you are right, there can be necessary entities and contingent ones, there can't be necessary entities that are contingent on a cause.

          • Chris Townsend

            The only way I can understand this point is that necessary entities aren't "contingent" in the same way that contingent beings are, because the self-contained necessary being cannot "not" exist. Because it isn't capable of this, unlike factors for contingent beings which can end, that is what makes necessary beings rely on a cause. As Joe said, it can't be an infinite regress, so it has to be an infinite being that continually provides the necessity.

          • Anything that must exist is necessary, everything else is contingent. I don't see how something must exist no matter what but also be contingent on something. But I would also say this is a tangent.

        • Chris, the necessity that Aquinas speaks of (as well as Joe) in this argument is not "absolute" necessity, i.e., God. Note what Joe writes:

          "Shrewd atheists will sometimes object at this point that this doesn't prove God. They're right; at this point, we've just shown that at least one thing can't not exist. That could be God, or gods, or angels, or a Demiurge, or matter, or mathematical laws... or more than one of these things."

          What Aquinas means by necessity is simply that which cannot go out of existence by nature. This DOES NOT equal God. As Joe points out, it can be an angel. An angel cannot not exist by nature because it is an incorporeal being. In other words, once it comes into being, it stays in being (necessity).

          The next step of the argument, as Joe points out, asks whether there can be an infinite regress of beings that have received their necessity (remember, necessity = can't go out of existence). The answer is no. Thus the conclusion is that there must be one that is "absolutely" necessary - in other words, the fact that it cannot not exist is not derived from some other being (its nature is not received and thus not contingent - it is uncaused).

          Check out Dr. Edward Feser's treatment of this proof in his book Aquinas. He explains the difference between received necessity and absolute necessity.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      "Air" is also a being. That is, it has "existence" (being).

      • These semantics are frustrating. It is odd to say the least to describe "air" as a "being" because it exists. Air is air, it exists, we are reasonable to believe it exists because we observe it.

        Calling it a "being" is a highly specific usage which is strange to me. If I were to close a door and say to you that the room I just left is full of "beings" and you go in and say "where" and I say "the air, the desk, the dust, they all exist, they are all beings!" I think you would find me to be a bit childish and ridiculous.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Actually, I would admire your precision. You did not say "human beings." A being is a thing that has the attribute "to be." That this is not the colloquialism of the street is immaterial, since we would make no similar demand if discussing mathematics, physics, or any of the lesser sciences. Would you object to a topologist calling a maze "simple" and a figure-8 "complex" simply because in common speech you might say the reverse?

      • Chris Townsend

        Air isn't a being. To exist isn't necessarily to be a being. For example, a rock exists, but it isn't a "being", in the sense of the word.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Of course air and rocks have being. How can something "exist" and not have being? To exist and to be are the same thing: one in Latin, the other in Old English. Are you restricting "being" to living beings? To human beings? What a strange restriction!

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I think that this post, and the similar Feser post that we saw recently, provide, or at least suggest, caveats as to what is meant by "certainty" and "perfect knowledge". But it seems to me that the language that is used in both posts almost deliberately minimizes these caveats.

    To know something with absolute certainty is, in a sense, to own it, to have it as an object grasped. When we know a mathematical truth, we have grasped it. It is controlled, and its truth can't escape us. That sort of grasping of mathematical truth is different from the relationship we have with capital "T" Truth. The Truth grasps us, not the other way around. Even if we grasp It, we grasp at as a thing alive. It is a living person. We follow the Truth. We don't own it as a dead fact. This seems somewhat different from the certainty that we have with regard to mathematical truths.

    Pope Francis's comments about uncertainty in his America Magazine interview are very germane to this as well.

    • Very well said.

    • BrianKillian

      The previous pope too, thought that it was doubt, not certainty, that is the real 'avenue of communication' between believers and non-believers.

  • This argument does not demonstrate that god exists.

    The first problem is the definition of contingency, which tries to sneak in acceptance that all matter and energy is contingent. The definition uses "exist" in a specific way, it talks about the arrangement of material. A human being does not "exist" if it is not arranged into a human form. Our observation shows that all arrangements of matter need have a cause for their arrangements or motion. This is an "efficient cause". But there is also something else required for this kind of causation, a material cause. There has to be something for the efficient cause to act on. This something is obviously matter/energy. Our observation of this is that it is never created or destroyed, it just keeps changing form. So in one sense of "exist" we have lots of experience of causation. But in the other sense, the sense of something existing vs not, we have no experience of causation, just rearrangement.

    You will also note that there is no example of a necessary being, this because we don't have any examples. We have never observed anything the existence of which is necessary. It could be some vague being that accounts for matter/energy, or it could be matter/energy itself. It could be a single immaterial agent and all matter is illusory (solipsism). We don't know and we have no way of figuring this out.

    Can we say the existence of matter/energy itself is contingent? I say we do not know and we have no basis to reach conclusions on this. What do our observations show? No matter/energy is ever created or destroyed. We have no evidence of it ever not existing. Scientists tell us that there was literally no time when this material universe did not exist (not the arrangement but its actual existence). It is plausible that matter/energy is the necessary something.

    What basis to we have to conclude that there is some other entity that accounts for matter/energy? We have never observed it. It has to exist somehow without dimension (space) or persistence (time) or material - I cannot understand what something without these attributes can be said to "exist". Do we know how it could bring matter/energy into existence? No idea. Is there any accounting for its existence? It doesn't need accounting for, because we define it that way.

    • Tess

      "It is plausible that matter/energy is the necessary something."

      I agree, this is where I've also found the argument from necessity to be ineffective.

      An atheist can say that energy is the 'necessary something'. The theist may insist that energy is contingent on some other 'necessary something' which we call God, but then the atheist can query why we call that 'God' and not 'energy'.

      We may agree that *something* is necessary and uncaused, but still not reach the conclusion that that something has a will or self-awareness, let alone love; nor can we conclude that it must transcend known reality. If God can be necessary and uncaused, then why can reality not be the thing necessary and uncaused?

      As a theist myself I tend to use the argument in the other direction. If the universe or multiverse is necessary and uncaused, why is a necessary and uncaused God implausible?

      Either way, I find it impossible to get my read around the idea of something uncaused, whatever its nature. Causality is so wrapped up in the idea of time, which is itself contingent. My mind falls into an abyss whenever I consider it!

      • Thanks for your comment. The plausibility of an immaterial, timeless being that can create matter out of nothing needs to be justified. I simply cannot conceive of anything existing without dimension or persistence or matter/energy. The material cosmos 'just existing' is troubling to my intuitions, but adding that there is an inconceivable cause just adds more questions.

        I think this argument is powerful not because it is reasonable but because out brains evolved to seek solutions for everything. This question of existence and purpose is a big one, it just feels comforting to label god as a solution.

      • "...but then the atheist can query why we call that 'God' and not 'energy'."

        They aren't even in the same metaphysical category. Energy is something within the contingent universe. Yet the ground of the contingent universe cannot be something within it--it must, by necessity, transcend it. This transcendent necessary cause most people call "God".

        Fr. Robert Barron recently answered this query himself at Strange Notions, from a slightly different angle, in his post, "Revisiting the Argument from Motion":

        "There might indeed, [skeptics] say, be a prime mover or uncaused principle but this first element in the causal chain might be matter or energy or some such physical element. Many point to the famous law of the conservation of energy and conclude that the fundamental stuff of the universe just undergoes continual change of form throughout time.

        In order to answer this objection, we have to examine the nature of the unmoved mover a bit more carefully. That which is truly the uncaused or unmoved source of energy must be fully actualized (actus purus in Aquinas’s pithy Latin), which means that it is not capable of further realization. But energy or matter is that which is capable of undergoing practically infinite change. Energy or matter is endlessly malleable and hence about as far from actus purus as can be imagined. A rather simple thought experiment shows that such primal physical elements cannot be the unmoved mover. Neither matter nor energy exists as such but always in a particular form or configuration. In regard to either, one could always ask, what color is it, at what velocity does it move, under what conditions does it exist? A given piece of matter is one color, but it could be any other color; energy is at one quantum level, but it could be at any other. Therefore, we are compelled to inquire about the cause that made it to exist this way rather than that. We can appeal, of course, to some other material cause, but then we are compelled to ask the same question about that cause, and having recourse indefinitely to similarly material movers won’t get us anywhere closer to an ultimate explanation. The philosophical dictum that sums up this state of affairs is “act precedes potency.” The first cause of change cannot be itself subject to change."

        • Tess

          "Energy is something within the contingent universe."

          Hi Brandon,

          I used the word energy because the previous commentator had done so, not because I myself would suggest it as a 'first cause'. Apologies if it created a red herring.

          My point was that if I as a theist can postulate God as uncaused, then an atheist can always respond by suggesting something that isn't God: it could be 'energy' or a transcendent unchanging multiverse, or overarching mathematical laws, or something else, just not God.

          If I can conceive of God as uncaused and unchanging, then the atheist can also conceive of something that isn't God as uncaused and unchanging.

          Conversely, if the atheist suggests that there is something (anything) uncaused and unchanging on which our universe is contingent, it opens the door (I believe) to the possibility that God is the uncaused and unchanging thing on which the universe is contingent.

          Incidentally I don't necessarily agree with Fr Robert's argument. Energy may appear in our universe in many forms, but its underlying reality could still be unchanging and uncaused. (But I don't think that's important to the point I was trying to make, so I don't wish to be distracted by it.)

        • Caravelle

          It seems to me that by the argument as it is given this transcendent, necessary cause must be logic, nothing less and nothing more. I made an argument to that effect in response to Gray Striker upthread, and I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.

    • juanmi

      i like your objection because i am not convinced that the radical contingency of the "cosmos" is self-evident. Indeed we can view the cosmos as a system that merely rearranges its material parts and energy into various forms.

      Also i like how you underscore that the argument and its supporting analogies seems to treat only a particular meaning for "existence".

      Perhaps the argument should be restated with the definition "existence" to be radical, i.e. as posessing the property "being". (as oposed to notions that are true but do not posssess "being").

      Now, going back to the argument. If the cosmos itself is not radically contingent then it is a necessary being and the premise - that there must be a necessary being is true. This seems to leave us with: either the cosmos is necessary or it isnt and there is a necessary cause.

      Mortimer Adler tries to put forth a more sophisticated version of the proof by contingency ("How to think about God"). I think he argues that a being which can be other than itself (re-arrangement) can also "not be" and hence must be radically contingent. However I am not so convinced by that. Can the cosmos be radically other than itself?

  • This post is not an elaboration of the argument from necessity by St. Thomas. If soil temperature is a necessary condition upon which the existence of a tree is contingent, then God, as that which is ultimately necessary in this context of necessity, is at the same level of existence as soil temperature.

  • CoF89

    Great article! I was an atheist, but thanks to God I'm not anymore, now I realize how irrational I was...
    Like Ravi Zacharias once said in a lecture:
    Ravi asked to the students: " Do you think that you have 50% of ALL knowledge (math, history,philosophy,bio-chemistry,physics...etc) of the world?
    Students: No, we don't have.
    Ravi: " And what about 10% of ALL knowledge?
    Students: "No."
    Ravi: And 1% of ALL knowledge?
    Students: "Don't know, maybe 1%..."
    Ravi: If you have 1% of ALL knowledge of the world, how can you be so sure that there's no God in the others 99%????

    If you wanna be a atheist, thats fine, it's a choice, like all others, but is NOT based on knowledge or reason.

    • George

      and if we haven't explored every inch of the ocean floor, how we can we be sure there isn't a herd of live elephants marching somewhere down there?

      • Caravelle

        We can't. Therefore, clearly it's reasonable to believe they're there. It's a huge relief, I was worried about elephants being hunted and habitat-reducted to extinction in Africa, but it turns out they've got the whole ocean floor to live in !

      • CoF89

        If this idea seems plausible to you...
        I think elephants need oxygen, and the pressure would kill them...This little knowledge allow me to refute this possibility.

        • George

          So we don't have to observe the unexplored 99% of the ocean to not believe in elephants living down there? That's awesome!

        • I think there needs to be time and space for something to exist. This little knowledge allows me to refute God, but NOT as a possibility, I don't know if God is impossible or possible, I would say you don't know that such elephants are necessarily impossible, perhaps they are like the dozens of other air breathing mammals that live in the sea?

          • "I think there needs to be time and space for something to exist. This little knowledge allows me to refute God."

            Your premise is not "a little knowledge". It's an unsupported assertion that conveniently supports your conclusion.

            Why does existence depend on time and space? I see no reason for that to be true. For example, does the existence of mathematical numbers, or philosophical propositions, depend on time or space? No, but they certainly exist.

          • I'm not certain existence is impossible without space, time or material, I just don't see what it means to exists in that way. I cannot even conceive of what it means. When I try, I keep picturing something material, with some kind of dimensions, that lasts.

            Mathematical numbers do not exist in my view. Numbers Are concepts we attribute to existing objects, or other concepts. The concepts exist, but they exist in time, space and matter in brains.

          • George

            how can you say that they don't depend on time and space?

          • CoF89

            "I think there needs to be time and space for something to exist."
            Right, cause and effect. But God wasn't caused, he is the first uncaused cause, the eternal cause...The theory of big-bang says that the universe CAME into existence, therefore, it has a cause.
            So what caused the big-bang? Could matter self-created? Why there's something instead of nothing?
            Something (matter,space-time) can't came from nothing...l

            But God didn't have a cause, because he did not came into existence, he's a metaphysical being, eternal one.
            Maybe I'm not good with words, english is not my mother-language, and this is a subject thats debated for centuries...

    • I don't know how much of the knowledge I have of the world, I would think far less than 1 %. Nor would I say that I am "so sure" that a god or gods don't exist. However, that doesn't mean we have to treat all claims as being reasonable of credible.

      With my less than 1% of knowledge I am confident that Leprechauns do not exist. That homeopathy has no effect on illness, that my horoscope is no better at predicting the future than a coin flip, that aliens are not really abducting humans and that the leadership of the world are not disguised lizards. These are claims that many people consider to be reasonable based on knowledge too. I have better reasons to disbelieve these claims.

      I also have good reasons to disbelieve the claim that a man who was crucified 2 thousand years ago was also his own father, and the immaterial creator of the universe that is not a "being in the world" but "being itself" and survived his own death.

      I'd be happy to discuss your reasons for believing that, which is what this site is about.

      But neither or us need to be "so certain" about our beliefs and we do not need 100% knowledge or even 1% before we can claim it is reasonable to believe or disbelieve a given claim. Surely you are not claiming that you are "so certain" that God exists, do you have 100% or even 10% of the available knowledge?

      • CoF89

        But some people affirm with 100% sure that God doesn't exist...and this is irrational.

        • Caravelle

          Name one.

        • I can't even think of one person who has ever said that. By contrast this very article says it can prove god with certainty, thought it does not.

          I would agree, seriously saying you know almost anything with 100% certainty is irrational.

          • CoF89

            I've heard some people claiming that, but, that's not the point.
            If you can't affirm 100% that God doesn't exist, so there's a possibility that he might exist right? If he might exists, why atheists (specially on the internet), they're always trying to deny or disproof God?
            How can you disproof something like that?
            You can't disproof/proof a metaphysical being throught physical methods, you can imply something...I think, there where faith comes, I don't need 100% proof to believe in God, what I have is enough for me.

            But atheists, have this same faith to not believe.

          • Michael Murray

            Atheists are people who hold no beliefs in gods. That is not the same as disbelieving in a particular god or all gods or anything at all.

            At a practical level it doesn't matter if your belief in something 0%. Once you get to the point that your belief in something is so low as for it to have no useful impact on your life then you are living your life as if that belief is 0%.

          • A God or pantheon of gods may exist. Indeed, all kinds of supernatural possibilities are... possible. The question is how likely are they, given what we observe? Is it reasonable to believe in them?

            Generally atheists on the internet are challenging assertions of knowledge of a god, or reasonable belief in a god, or, as is here in this very piece, that perfect knowledge that a god exists can be demonstrated with relative ease.

            I agree, you don't need 100% proof to believe in something, nor do you need 100% proof to reject believing in something. But we can make arguments about what is reasonable to believe based on what we observe.

            As for faith, it depends what you mean by that word. I believe things when there is a reasonable basis to do so, based on evidence. I see no point in using the word "faith".

            Generally, atheists like myself lack a belief in any gods because what is presented to us is too vague, or there simply is not a good enough evidence to believe in them, particularly since these gods and other divine beings are claimed to do things that science tells us are impossible. Moreover, particularly with the Christian god, there are large problems of it engaging in acts I consider to be obviously immoral and unconscionable, which are not sufficiently explained by theists, but which are very understandable as historic myths written down by iron age mystics based on theology, oral tradition, and straight up creative writing.

            In terms of the arguments against god, particularly the Christian idea of a god, here are a few good positive atheist arguments:

            The argument from evil/suffering. (If just one instance of the suffering that seems to be pointless to us, is in fact pointless, there can be no all-powerful, all-good deity, that cares about us.)

            The argument from non-resistant unbelievers. (If there is just one person, who honestly does wish to be in a loving relationship with god, and is not, no god exists.)

            The argument from non-god objects. (If god created the universe, and he had the option of not creating it, the only good option was not to create. Before elements of creation with free will existed, the universe was populated by perfection and ultra goodness alone. It is impossible to improve upon this, therefore by creating other conscious beings with the capacity for sin and immorality, God could only create the risk of negative effects. It could only degrade his perfection.)

          • CoF89

            Let me see if I got you...You say that is only reasonable to believe in what we observe and in what science can prove, right? But what about, metaphysical truths (such as, for example, the existence of other minds beyond my own) , ethical judgments (you can not prove by science that the Nazis were bad because morality is not subject to the scientific method),esthetic judgments (the beauty, and goodness, can not be scientifically proven); and, ironically, science itself (the belief that the scientific method discovers the truth can not be proven by the scientific method itself, it would be argue in circles.

            As you said, " I believe things when there is a reasonable basis to do so, based on evidence." You can't believe in any of those things above.

            About your arguments to not believe in God, they're a pattern of atheists, like the problem of suffering, it's much better for atheists to blame God( which for then doesn't exist) about all the suffering in the world, than blame the man itself, the man who does the war, who is greedy..etc. There're a lot of good books about it, read CS Lewis - The Problem of Suffering, it's great. If you don't have a pattern of justice how can you say that something is unjust?Like Dostoievski said: "If God doesn't exist, everything is permited".

            "The argument from non-resistant unbelievers. (If there is just one person, who honestly does wish to be in a loving relationship with god, and is not, no god exists.)"
            God never forces nobody to love Him, we have free-will, there's no love in obligation...you have all rights to choose not to love God.

            "The argument from non-god objects. (If god created the universe, and he had the option of not creating it, the only good option was not to create. Before elements of creation with free will existed, the universe was populated by perfection and ultra goodness alone."

            How can you say that? You can't prove that the best option was not to create, neither that the universe was populated by perfetion, the universe DIDN'T existed before it was created. Only God, if he chose to create, it was good, afterall, here we are.

            "therefore by creating other conscious beings with the capacity for sin and immorality, God could only create the risk of negative effects. It could only degrade his perfection.)"

            It would be better if we were robots?? Having no feelings, no free-will, no liberty, no love...only pre-programmed feelings, fake ones...
            If we were like this we could never be here talking about this.

          • "You say that is only reasonable to believe in what we observe and in what science can prove, right?"

            No, I didn't say that and it is not my position. I said "I believe things when there is a reasonable basis to do so, based on evidence." Science has far too high standards for us to require it to simply believe something.

            Let us take the existence of other minds. I do believe other minds exist. This is on my observation of other humans which is consistent with what I would expect if other minds did exist. This belief is not 100% certain. It is as strong as I am of the observations,

            I do not blame God for suffering, I do not believe in any gods. I am pointing out that the observations we have of suffering are inconsistent with the God you Christians claim exists. This is a reason to decline to believe in such a God.

            "You can't prove that the best option was not to create, neither that the
            universe was populated by perfetion, the universe DIDN'T existed before
            it was created. Only God, if he chose to create, it was good, afterall,
            here we are."

            I think I can prove that. Consider a state of affairs absent the material Universe and only God exists, are you saying such a state is imperfect? In what way? It lacked the possibility of sin, evil, suffering? All the Good qualities are present in God and to their maximal extent, nothing God does can increase them. God does not change when he creates, so all he does by creating is invite evil into the world.

            "It would be better if we were robots??"

            No, I am saying it would be better for such God not to create humanity at all, as it could possibly do is create the possibility that evil could exist. In fact, what does happen? Sin, evil and most of humanity damned.

            What I believe is that there is no God. That suffering is an evolved response to events that are negative to our survival and well-being. The reason it isn't limited or improved by a loving God, is because no such entity exists.

          • CoF89

            I see your point, it's complicated for me try to teach you theology, since I'm not a teacher, and not a expert, but what I do know, that you're just legislating your opinion based in your faith, as I do too, since none of us has scientific proofs. But faith for a christian is a good thing...

            You said: "I do believe other minds exist. This is on my observation of other humans which is consistent with what I would expect if other minds did exist." This is based on your faith...This is the same if I've said " I do believe in God, cause my observation of the humans lifes (including my own) changed by His love would be expected if I loving God existed."

            "I do not blame God for suffering, I do not believe in any gods. I am pointing out that the observations we have of suffering are inconsistent with the God you Christians claim exists."

            God is good, but his creation, choose to follows his ows destiny, the human became evil because he choose to sin.Evil is a privation of good, like cold is a absence of heat, the dark the absence of light...you can't blame the creator for the choices that his creature did.God had a plan for all humanity,Jesus is this plan...I know is very hard to believe somethings, but our knowledge is very limited, we don't even know what is going to happen tomorrow, how we can judge God saying that he did a bad thing creating us? We have no idea how it would be.

          • What is it that you expect to see in humans if there was no god?

            Please refrain from telling me I have or use faith. This is like me telling you that you have no faith, because faith is an illusion.

            Again, I do not blame god. But if a god existed that wanted us not to suffer and had the power to stop it he would. Suffering is not limited to evil, it is caused by morally neutral events like earthquakes and disease.

            If this god exists, it is perfect and in no way evil. He would not desire anything, he is perfect. He has a choice to create and risk evil existing, or not create and continue in perfect goodness. If such an entity existed, the only moral choice is not to create humans.

          • CoF89

            What is it that you expect to see in humans if there was no god?
            If nowadays, we see a lot of bad things, imagine if there were no God?

            If God didn't exist, we don't have a moral pattern, everything is permited. How can you scientifically prove that the nazi were bad? If we don't have a pattern of goodness, it all depends of points of view.

            You're mad about Im telling you that you use faith cause you know thats true.

            "Suffering is not limited to evil, it is caused by morally neutral events like earthquakes and disease".
            As you might know, earthquakes, storm, volcano activities they're all essential to to nature and human life on earth, not only human but all others animals, and disease too...but you have to understand too, that a lot of deseases and natural disasters were cause by man, thats obvious.

            But who told you that suffering will last forever? It wont. God has the power, but imagine everytime that a man do bad things God had to intervene. We would not be free. We would be like a toys to God. We know what's the right thing to do, but we do the bad thing cause it's easier, and then we complain and blame God over our own choices.

            How can you say something about suffering or justice, if you don't have a pattern?

            How can you say something about perfection if God doesn't exist (for you)?
            How can you possibly know what is bad, if you don't know what is good? It's all relative? Of course not...

          • I would expect prayers to be answered in a way that was distinguishable from God not existing, at a minimum.

            God doesn't exist and that is why there is no moral law giver to stop things like the nazis. It is up to us to develop rules and enforce them. You can't scientifically prove moral issues.

            I don't use anything that fits my understanding of the word faith.

            I would agree that things like earthquakes are up preventable things that happen according to nature. Are you saying the god you believe in is powerless to stop them, or does he not want to? Is he incapable from creating a world where babies are killed every day by causes no human can prevent?

            So you think it is moral for god to decline stopping a man raping a three year old because limiting this man's freedom to rape would be worse than saving the child?

          • CoF89

            So you think it is moral for god to decline stopping a man raping a three year old because limiting this man's freedom to rape would be worse than saving the child?
            Again, you didn't understand. The baby might suffer now, but after death he will be in heaven for eternity, and the rapper, in hell, suffering for all eternity. Now imagine if there were nothing beyond this life, I would agree with you, it would be a terrible thing. The greatest tool of devil is to convince people that he doesn't exist.
            " It is up to us to develop rules and enforce them. You can't scientifically prove moral issues."

            Who is us???? The Nazi developed their own laws, if God doesn't exist, the nazi's laws is just right as US, Canada...laws...they were all made by man's. If God doesn't exist each man has his own law, and there is nothing wrong with it.

            I would expect prayers to be answered in a way that was distinguishable from God not existing, at a minimum.

            But they're answered, sometimes silence is a answer,( as my mother does to me) and not everything that you ask will be good for you, like the kids who ask for everything to their parents, God knows what would be good, and what would not. Sometimes the difficulties of life are a good opportunity to learn, like the mistakes you make.

          • I don't see what the child or rapist's eternal soul has to do with it. What moral reason could god have for not stopping the rape? From your comment it would seem that this act is unredeemable, but isn't it entirely possible that the rapist will repent and enjoy eternal life in heaven too? Isn't it entirely possible that the child will grow up damaged by this assault and develop a drug problem, never know Jesus and suffer eternity in hell?

            But who cares at all about any of that, why does god not just stop the rapist's heart before the act?

            This also says nothing about the millions who die in natural disasters and disease.

            Who is us? It is humanity. And no, the laws of the Nazis are not just as right as Canada's. I hate to break it to you, but indeed without a God there is still right and wrong, unless by right, all you mean is "consistent with god".

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So this all good God, infinitely punishes people for all eternity for finite offenses. That is a terrible thing.

          • CoF89
          • Ignatius Reilly

            Not really sure how that answers my objection. He is just summarizing his debate with Harris. Is it just, for an all just God to infinitely punish souls in hell for all eternity for finite offenses. It would be analogous to us giving life sentences for traffic violations.

        • George

          If you want to focus on those people that's fine, but not helpful if you want to persuade all the other atheist that don't have a 100% conviction.

          • CoF89

            I know...

        • Doug Shaver

          But some people affirm with 100% sure that God doesn't exist...and this is irrational.

          I think it's unjustified, but I'm not prepared to say that every unjustified belief is an irrational belief.

          • CoF89

            Differents points of view.

          • Doug Shaver

            Obviously.

    • George

      On a more serious note, I really want to know what you thought and believed as an atheist. I haven't seen a former atheist's story that is relevant to myself, and it would take more than Ravi Zacharias's arguments from ignorance to convince me there's a Yahweh.

      • CoF89

        When I was an atheist, I used to believe in all those things that atheists used to believe...the universe doesn't need a creator, the naturalist thoughts, nothing from outside the nature could exist, the problem of suffering was a proof that God was injust, the evolution disprove creation...etc I don't know if this is suficient for you, but for me it was.
        Don't bother with someone elses arguments, keep you mind open...if you are skeptical about God, be skeptical about your skepticism too, be always open to new thoughts, no one convinved me, no one came to me and said that I have to believe in God, was natural...

    • George

      Also, I don't choose to make theist assertions into fallacies like arguments from ignorance, false dichotomies, strawmen arguments, etc. How could I choose to believe or not believe in god? Did you do that?

      • CoF89

        I think you misundestood what I've said...I'ts a choice, not in the way like this.."Now I believe...now I don't".
        But some atheists that I know, even though with all reasons to believe, much more reasons to believe in God than to believe in atheism, they've choosen to be skeptical...I don't know, I think they have some kind of prejudice against God, or they're too afraid to take this road...
        I did not choose God, he chose me...I was lead to believe, I just opened my mind and let God do the rest. I'm telling about me, each one has his own thoughts and spiritual struggle.

    • Doug Shaver

      If you wanna be a atheist, thats fine, it's a choice

      It was not a choice for me. I certainly don't mind being an atheist, but I didn't become one because I wanted to be one.

      • CoF89

        You misunderstood...it's not in this way.
        I didn't chose to believe, I was lead to believe...suddently for me, it all made sense, the belief was much more reasonable than disbilief.
        There are a lot of good reasons to believe too...
        Start to be skeptical about your skepticism too.

        • Doug Shaver

          You misunderstood

          You said, "it's a choice." What was not to understand about that?

          Start to be skeptical about your skepticism too.

          I take it you're assuming I never have been.

    • Doug Shaver

      Ravi: If you have 1% of ALL knowledge of the world, how can you be so sure that there's no God in the others 99%????

      How sure do I need to be in order to justify not believing in God?

      • CoF89

        That's is up to you. Nobody is obliged to believe even based in 100% sure things...

        You don't need to justify, but, don't say that knowledge made you discharge God.

        • Doug Shaver

          don't say that knowledge made you discharge God.

          I wouldn't think of it, considering I have no idea what "discharge God" could possibly mean.

    • Tallulah Alice Mae

      Apologies in advance, but all your comments are some of the most incoherent, illogical rambling I've read in a while and so your initial claim that atheism is irrational has made me giggle a lot. I know that's a really horrible thing to say, but honestly. And thank you.

      • CoF89

        Ok man...thats your opinion, I don't care what you think about me, you made laugh with comment too, cause you simply attack me, not the argument, who's the irrational one? If you wanna say something say, something usefull, but honestly, thank YOU,to show how incoherent you atheiests are.

      • CoF89

        Thank you, to just attack me, not the argument. Like I said, very irrational, just prove me right...
        And honestily, I don't really care what you think about me, if you have something usefull to add to this argument say it...otherwise keeping using ad hominem arguments.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Two contingent beings could be contingent with respect to each other. We could therefore have a finite set of contingencies without a non-contingent being.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      A causes B to exist and B causes A to exist? I don't see how that is possible.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Contingency wasn't defined by causative properties (which you would have to define), but defined by A is contingent on B if and only if A cannot exist without B.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I guess I have no idea what you are talking about.

        • BrianKillian

          Right, that's been a defect with these articles. Necessity is being used both as a condition for something's existence and as an efficient cause of something's existence. Those don't strike me as being the same. I guess that would technically make the argument guilty of equivocation.

          The same thing happens in the arguments from motion. Motion is used at times as change in general, and at other times its used as efficient causality of existence. But it's not the same. That's why Aristotle thought there were many First Movers, but Aquinas' first mover is the one, infinite God.

          You may be right that multiple contingent beings can exist, each being the necessary condition for the other one without contradiction.

      • Kyle Williams

        Imagine it this way, If two acrobats are standing sideways on a rod, but are leaning back and holding each others arms to keep balanced, then they depend on the other to not fall because in that same position without the other person, the acrobat would fall.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You have not explained how A causes B to exist and B causes A to exist.

    • Kyle Williams

      counterexample provided

      /sage

  • David Nickol

    My problem with these "proofs" is that the authors seem to imply that the big questions in metaphysics (and "Does God Exist?" certainly qualifies as probably the biggest of them all) can be answered Yes or No. But that simply is not the nature of metaphysics. If it could be known for a fact that God existed, "Does God Exist?" would not be a metaphysical question. I am by no means an expert on metaphysics or the philosophy of religion or philosophy in general, but I do know that it is misleading to present these kind of arguments as slam dunks and claim that those who are not convinced by them simply have misunderstood them.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Whatever answer could there be to the ontological question does God exist than yes or no?

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        The answer could be: "yes and no".

        Am I being glib in saying that? Yes and no.

        :-)

        • Gray Striker

          "Glib" or double spoken as you so often are more often not?
          However I still enjoy your convoluted rhetoric.

      • David Nickol

        Whatever answer could there be to the ontological question does God exist than yes or no?

        My point is that metaphysics doesn't answer the question either way. It cannot be said that one of the findings of metaphysics is that God exists. I think it is not too much of a distortion to say that science as a discipline answers questions, but metaphysics as a discipline does not. Of course, individual philosophers (metaphysicians) give their own answers to the big questions, but other philosophers disagree with them, and consequently it cannot be said that philosophy/metaphysics arrives at answers to to questions.

        Besides yes or no, the question "Does God exist?" could be answered, "It is impossible to know," or "Ultimately the question is meaningless and consequently neither yes nor no is a meaningful answer."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The ontological question does God exist has to be answered with either a yes or a no. Either God exists or he does not.

          The epistemological question can I know if God exists can be answered yes, no, it is impossible to know, I don't know, and so on.

          I don't see how it can ever be said to be a meaningless question.

          In Feser's book SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS, he asks and answers metaphysical questions left and right.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think problems occur as soon as we map that ontological status to human language. I think you would agree that the statement is false according to some understandings of "God" and "exists", and true under other understandings of "God" and "exists". In my view, that ambiguity can never be resolved in human language, because God transcends anything we could define in human language. Given that ambiguity, it seems to me that the best (least misleading) answer in human language is: "yes and no".

            I think that the question is answered definitely answered in the Eucharist, but that answer can only be approximated in human language.

          • David Nickol

            In Feser's book SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS, he asks and answers metaphysical questions left and right.

            But we all can ask and answer metaphysical questions. For example, I ask myself, "Do human beings have free will?" And I answer, "No." Is that answer right or wrong? You, no doubt, consider it wrong. But has metaphysics answered the question? If I look up free will in a dictionary or encyclopedia of philosophy, will I read that it is an agreed upon truth of metaphysics that human beings have free will, in much the same way it is an agreed upon truth of science that atoms form bonds by sharing electrons with, or transferring electrons to, each other?

            Take your copy of Scholastic Metaphysics and place it upright on your bookshelf. Is it the only book* you own that, in order to read the spine, you have to tilt your head leftward and read from the bottom of the spine to the top? That's the case with my copy. Obviously nothing in such a book can be trusted!

            ___________
            *Written in English. Foreign language books don't count.

          • Michael Murray

            The ontological question does God exist has to be answered with either a yes or a no. Either God exists or he does not.

            The difficulty here is you are trying to pass from the necessary truth or untruth of a logical statement to the necessary truth or untruth of a fact about the real world. Before you can do that you are going to have to define "God" and "exists" at the very least.

            Consider something like the double slit experiment. I have a source of photons and I fire them at two slits. Surely the statement "the photon goes through slit A" must be either true or false? In reality it turns out that this statement is neither. The problem is that the statement is not precise enough because notions like "photon" and "goes through slit A" have not been carefully defined and turn out to be very difficult if not impossible to define.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So, you are no longer an atheist, since you are not willing to assert that God does NOT exist?

          • David Nickol

            So, you are no longer an atheist, since you are not willing to assert that God does NOT exist?

            It seems to me that believing (but not claiming to know for an absolute fact) that God exists is sufficient grounds for considering oneself a theist, so believing (but not claiming to know for an absolute fact) that God does not exist is sufficient grounds for considering oneself an atheist.

            There was a good piece in the New York Times that dealt with the issue of taking a strong for-or-against position on matters when certainty either way was basically impossible.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I guess that makes me a strong adherent to the PSR (principle of sufficient reason).

          • Michael Murray

            Seriously Kevin ? I have always said atheism means "holds no beliefs in gods" so yes I am an atheist by my definition. But it has nothing to do with what I posted.

            I do rather like the idea of calling myself an "igtheist" though and it would suit the current discussion

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

            Ignosticism or igtheism is the idea that every theological position assumes too much about the concept of God and other theological concepts; including (but not limited to) concepts of faith, spirituality, heaven, hell, afterlife, damnation, salvation, sin and the soul.

            Ignosticism is the view that any religious term or theological concept presented must be accompanied by a coherent definition. Without a clear definition such terms cannot be meaningfully discussed. Such terms or concepts must also be falsifiable. Lacking this an ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the existence or nature of the terms presented (and all matters of debate) is meaningless. For example, if the term "God" does not refer to anything reasonably defined then there is no conceivable method to test against the existence of god. Therefore the term "God" has no literal significance and need not be debated or discussed.

            Some philosophers have seen ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism,[1] while others have considered it to be distinct.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay, I define charity as acting for the good of another even to the point of sacrifice. I think that is a good definition, one that fits in well with the Catholic religion, and lots of other persons in various religions and in no religion at all would agree with it.

            In what sense can this charity be falsified?

          • Michael Murray

            Sorry I don't understand the question ? Why would I want to falsify this concept of charity ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Didn't you say that concepts along religious lines are not meaningful unless they are clearly defined and falsifiable?

            EDIT: The source you quoted said this and I assume you agreed with it.

          • Michael Murray

            I just said I liked the concept of igtheism as a general remark. I've never taken it seriously enough to look at in detail.

            The point of igtheism for many non-believers as far as I understand it is is that it gets around the problem they face that the concept of god is usually not defined well enough to say you don't believe in it. Ground Of All Being ? How can I not believe in a Ground of All Being ? I don't even know what it means.

            To follow on with your point charity doesn't seem to me like an exclusively religious concept. You could call it altruism for example. It certainly exists. I can't walk through my local shopping centre without someone sticking charity in my face.

        • Michael Murray

          How are you enjoying the book by Inwagen David ?

  • Peter

    The concept of necessary being, based on medieval thought, is bolstered by the concept of necessary designer, based on modern science. The former is based on reason, the latter on evidence. If the notion of a necessary being leads us to God with certainty, the notion of a necessary designer redoubles that certainty.

    Based on the current evidence, there is one universe, the universe had a beginning, and it is seeded with life. Being solitary, our universe could not have been randomly selected from multiple universes and therefore is not the product of chance. Having a beginning, our universe cannot be an eternal inexplicable brute fact. And finally, the inexorable drive towards complexity resultingdenotes that the universe has a purpose.

  • Caravelle

    There are some massive issues with defining one's terms here. We start with this:

    Necessary beings are the opposite. They exist necessarily. Or, if you'll excuse the double negative, necessary beings couldn't not-be. If there were some set of circumstances in which these beings could cease to exist, then their existence would be contingent, and they'd be up there in the first group. This means that necessary beings aren't capable of generation or corruption (that is, of being born or dying).

    Which, sure. But later you say this:

    What does this mean? Well, imagine a universe in which there were seven eternal angels. Incapable of being born or dying, they're in the category of necessary beings. But we're still left asking, why do these angels exist

    Not if those angels are necessary we aren't. They couldn't not-be. You can't ask "why does this exist" if there is no possibility of it not existing. This division of necessary beings into two categories is pointless; it results in a reiteration of the previous argument, except with "kinda necessary beings" and "Ultimate Uber-Necessary being" instead of with "contingent" and "necessary" beings, and makes a mockery of the whole idea of something being "necessary".

    This doesn't affect original contingent/necessary the argument itself, but it says something when a purportedly logical argument trips up on its own definitions like that.

    Next, the impossibility of infinite regress:

    The branch you're sitting on may be connected to another branch, but at some point, it needs to meet up with something grounded, like a trunk. You can't just have an infinite chain of branches dangling in the air. If literally everything is contingent, there's nothing capable of bringing it from non-existence into existence, or keeping it in existence.

    Totally agreed. That makes perfect sense to me. You can't go back infinitely, you need some initial cause to have started the whole thing.

    Thing is, you know what else makes perfect sense to me ? That 0.9999... isn't equal to 1.0. No matter how far back you go you're just adding 9s, you need to add a 1 at some point !

    And yet, it is a mathematical fact that 0.9999... = 1.0, and it is a psychological fact that our intuitions are completely awful at understanding infinities.

    So I'm fine with thinking that infinite causal regress is impossible, but you need a better argument than "picture it! It's obvious, isn't it?" to use it as a premise in a logical argument that's about "perfectly knowing" anything.

    But then a very funny thing happens; in the first version of the argument we get this:

    Shrewd atheists will sometimes object at this point that this doesn't prove God. They're right; at this point, we've just shown that at least one thing can't not exist. That could be God, or gods, or angels, or a Demiurge, or matter, or mathematical laws... or more than one of these things.

    Huh, sure, I'd be fine with considering the laws of mathematics and logic to be "necessary" (the reason for the conditional is that I'm not convinced this "necessary/contingent" division is anything other than an approximation of reality, but let's go with them for the sake of argument).

    But this wasn't the end of the argument ! We're going to repeat it now with "necessary(a)/necessary(b)" instead of "contingent/necessary", and this time we'll end with:

    A necessary being exists who has its necessity through itself: In other words, Something not dependent upon anything at all to exist. This Something literally can't not exist, in this or any possible universe. (If its existence was contingent upon a particular type of universe, we'd be right back in the infinite regress problems detailed above).

    A necessary being who is the cause of all other necessary (and contingent!) things: Everything else we've talked about—you and me and all contingent realities, as well as all the necessary realities in category (a)—depends, either directly or indirectly, on this Something to exist. In other words, if this Something didn't exist, everything would instantly blink out of existence.

    This Something is Unlimited Being: This is implicit, but I wanted to draw it out explicitly. When we're talking about Something that exists necessarily, and isn't determined by anything else, we're talking about Something whose being is necessarily limitless. (If its being were limited by some external cause, where does that cause come from?)

    This Something is what we call “God”: For those used to thinking of God as a created being, perhaps this seems like a big jump. But we've arrived at the existence of a Something that exists by definition, and exists as “pure Being” or “unlimited Being.” And that's the best definition of God, and the definition of God that He gives (see below).

    Wait, what happened to the laws of logic and mathematics ??? All those things still apply to them too ! They're certainly necessary(b).

    Ah, but maybe they aren't? Maybe they're necessary(a); I've certainly seen people argue that the laws of logic and mathematics imply God, because someone would have to come up with such ordered entities. But what this means is that we're asking why logic and mathematics? We're conceiving of a situation where logic and mathematics might not exist (namely, if God hadn't created them, or had created them differently). In other words, we're considering the laws of logic and mathematics to be contingent ! No typeface can represent how nonsensical that is, since logic and mathematics are the standard by which we decide if something is necessary or contingent to begin with.

    Others might say that God didn't create the laws of mathematics and logic, He is them in some sense. Which, sure, we can call "that Something" "God" even if that something is logic and mathematics. But the thing is, we know a lot more about logic and mathematics than we know about God. As far as we can tell, the laws of logic and mathematics are immutable, eternal, pervade all reality (any hypothetical multiverse included), and aren't sentient. Sentience requires change; it means thinking one thing at one time, and another at another; it means taking specific actions at specific times; it means making decisions and choices, which means changing one's mental state between one moment and the other. Those things are incompatible with being immutable, eternal, or all-pervading.

    Which, you know, some people say God isn't sentient. "Ground of all being" and all. Which is fine for those who think that, but it isn't the God of Exodus.

  • hiernonymous

    You hit a weak links quite early on, when you assert, rather than prove, that the chain of contingency cannot be infinite. Why not?

    • Stallbaumer

      What if you were going to set brick A down on the ground and I told you to first wait until I put down brick B? Then I remembered that brick B couldn't be placed until brick C.... If this were to stretch infinitely, then we would never get to place any of the bricks at all.

      More simply, if the chain of contingency were infinite, then nothing would ever exist because everything would still be waiting on the preceding link in the chain that it's existence relies on.

      Eventually, there has to be a bottom brick.

      • hiernonymous

        Again, you say so, but you haven't proven so. You've used an example of a chain of intention, in which I am holding a brick in readiness and waiting for a contingency to occur, but that's not quite what we actually encounter in the real world. We're faced with the end of a chain of contingencies, and you are asserting that the chain had to have begun somewhere. Why? Why can there not be an infinite chain of contingencies? Your argument boils down to it had to have started somewhere or sometime, but that's an argument that needs to be proved, not a premise we can accept as a given.

        • Stallbaumer

          You're right. We're only facing the end of the chain of contingencies. But someone hanging at the end of a chain knows that the chain, however long, is anchored somewhere or he wouldn't be hanging. Asking him to prove that it's anchored seems absurd.

          • hiernonymous

            Why does it seem absurd - particularly when it's a metaphorical chain he's hanging from?

          • Stallbaumer

            Because he's hanging from it... A person can't hang from an unanchored chain, metaphorical or otherwise.

            If there's a problem with this then it is a result of my use of the wrong metaphor rather than a lack of logic of the metaphor I used.

            What if we simplified the chain and just called the whole universe one link? Instead of asking why a particular thing exists, we can ask why anything at all exists. If everything as a whole is contingent, then it couldn't exist without its cause

          • hiernonymous

            So let's look at your logic another way. There are things that you assume must have a cause, and things that you assume need no cause. You call these "contingent" and "necessary." You assume that the universe, taken as a whole, needs a cause. You haven't made your logic explicit yet - why do you assume that it needs a cause?

            It seems that you are partially arguing from analogy. You have encountered things in your existence that need causes. In fact, everything that you have ever encountered could be argued to need some sort of cause. You therefore assume that everything must have a cause.

            On the other hand, you have never encountered an example of the "necessary." You intuit the need for the necessary because all of the causes you have both encountered and believe that you understand have been linear and the self have causes, so you assume that there is some sort of cause "before" everything. In order to free yourself of the inconvenience of dealing with infinite regression and a universal hall of mirrors, you define your way out of a jam by assuming that one cause gets an exemption from the unproved requirement that everything that exists has a cause itself. By labeling this the "necessary," we do not have to try to understand where the necessary itself came from.

            This seems to be an argument badly in need of further refining, not a perfect proof.

            Aside: the argument that something can't just dangle from an unsupported chain would seem to be a good first step in proving that the world must rest on the back of a giant turtle, after all. It can't just dangle, can it?

      • George

        Or you just get to a stack of more bricks but mirrored in the other direction with the center of gravity as the middle point.

        • Stallbaumer

          I'm not sure I understand your point George. Are you suggesting that there exists a second chain of contingency stretching in the opposite direction, that our chain is somehow connected to?

      • Kyle Williams

        I exists, there was a being that caused me and a being that caused that being. So either there is a beginning OR this chain of events extends infinitely. Suppose the latter case, I exist, thus we know the that the chain is not degenerate as you argue.

        Or in your example, you have already set the brick down and are inspecting those below it (which of course there are) but this could be an infinitely log stack for all you know, there is no dilemma. what you argue is essentially that you are trying to lay the first brick which does cause a dilemma because you in this case you are asserting that you are "at infinity"

    • Gray Striker

      I think you get my drift......did not want to get into any arguments pro or con about the "infinite regress" stuff

      • hiernonymous

        Not trying to be difficult or dense, but not sure what your drift has to do with anything, unless this is a nick for Joe. If so, getting your drift and accepting an argument as proved are different propositions.

        • Gray Striker

          nothing to do with Joe....perhaps I misunderstood you. perhaps you were not even replying to me....were you

          • hiernonymous

            No worries, not the easiest format to follow conversations!

  • Gray Striker

    ..

  • Gray Striker

    Just stepping back from all of the philosophical and theological ramblings for a moment I would like to give my humble opinion in a nutshell, sans any academic degrees.

    Everything contingent has some other cause for its being.

    Seems a reasonable assertion to me.So granted

    It also seems reasonable to me that there probably is an "initial cause" .

    To assert that such an initial "cause" exists seems reasonable IMHO. and should not take a great leap of faith....some will call said cause the "singularity", the alpha point or "god". For an agnostic or an atheist to admit the possibility or even the probability of an initial first cause should not be understood by theists as them buying into any religious paradigm be it monotheism or any other ism.
    It just seems reasonable to assert there may have been a cause that was not itself in need of a cause, at least given our level of knowledge at this time in history. Though not a theist, I consider myself to be a reasonable rational person.

    • Caravelle

      Actually, having thought about it it appears to me there is one simple, demonstrable answer to this whole question.

      Joe's necessary entity that contains its necessity within itself is the laws of logic and mathematics (I think those two are logically/mathematically the same thing; tell me if I'm wrong. I'll call them "logic" from here on out).

      1) All things derive their necessity/contingency from logic: indeed, logic is the standard by which we evaluate questions like "does this have to exist?" or "could this not-be?"

      2) Logic contains its necessity within itself: obviously we use the same standard to figure out whether logic itself is necessary or contingent, to evaluate different systems of logic between each other.

      3) Everyone agrees logic is necessary: if you go with that then we can stop here, but actually I don't agree with that. I think that saying "logic is necessary" means answering the question "could logic not-be?" with "no", but it seems to me that question if you think about it is meaningless and self-contradictory, i.e we can't say know the answer to it or if there even is one, i.e we can't know the answer is "no". Which brings me to the next point:

      4) If logic isn't necessary then nothing is: Again, logic is the standard by which we can evaluate necessity. Even if like me we perversely withhold assent to the proposition "logic is necessary", we can't make any statements about any extra-logical causes of logic, including whether they exist, are necessary or contingent, or need to be, or anything. Put another way, the buck stops there. Either you think it actually stops at "logic", or you think it goes beyond, but "beyond" the buck stops being comprehensible as a buck or anything else, so it can't stop anywhere, and as far as our understanding goes it might as well have stopped at "logic".

      5) Nothing other than logic can be the ultimate necessary being: a straightforward consequence of 1). And 4), if you went down that particular rabbit hole.

      Conclusion: logic, and only logic, is the OP's necessary (category b) being.

      Conclusion for theists : Any aspect of God that isn't "the laws of mathematics/logic" isn't necessary(b).

      Second conclusion for theists: obviously you can have a God that isn't necessary(b). This argument doesn't even exclude an extra-logical, logic-causing necessary(b) God; that is, it does if you bought 3), but if you bought 4) then nothing can be excluded. However such a God couldn't be demonstrated or even reasoned about logically, so the final conclusion AFAICT is that this argument from necessity/contingency does not and can not prove God's existence; indeed it shows that God is either not necessary(b), or is unprovable.

      • Gray Striker

        It appears to me there is one simple, demonstrable answer to this whole question.

        I appreciate the depth of thought you have put into this matter, but going too far down the rabbit hole for a mere mortal such as I.

        Simple and demonstrable to you perhaps, but if it were so simple and demonstrable, I don't think cosmologists, philosphers, theologians and the rest of the big brains, in this day and age would be twisting their minds into knots over the question of "god".

        I will allow that god is unprovable, given our present level of knowledge and understanding about reality and the universe.and perhaps even unnecessary. We just don't know and all, including theists in my opinion should have the humility to admit that.
        For those who want to prove that "god" and not simply an initial unknowable "necessary" cause exists the onus is on them to provide compelling evidence of proof of that entity. We can't even call it god anymore, now it is the "ground of all being", or Being" itself. Do theists themselves know what they are talking about anymore? if they ever did. God used to be a Person, a Divine Being.

  • Doug Shaver

    For this argument to make sense, we need to define a few terms;

    I do have to know what someone means in order to understand, i.e. to make sense of, whatever they say. And, I do understand the distinction Heschmeyer makes between contingent and necessary beings. I don't find it a useful distinction, though, particularly in this context where contingency is conflated with causation.

    The only useful sense I can make of a necessary being is in terms of the proposition affirming its existence. If for some x, "x exists" is necessarily true, then I will say that x exists necessarily. Otherwise I will say that x exists contingently. And I regard a proposition as necessarily true if and only if its negation asserts or implies a contradiction. I have yet to see a good argument to the conclusion that if I affirm God's nonexistence, I must also affirm some contradiction.

  • Bob

    Shrewd atheists will sometimes object at this point that this doesn't prove God. They're right; at this point, we've just shown that at least one thing can't not exist. That could be God, or gods, or angels, or a Demiurge, or matter, or mathematical laws... or more than one of these things.

    The one thing that I believe really needs to be dealt with is 'matter' itself. You mention it here, but then ignore it for the rest of this article.

  • Threesides

    Joe,

    It seems to me that this whole thing is based on the assumption that infinity does not exist?

    "If X requires Y to exist, and Y requires Z to exist, you can't just draw that chain out infinitely. At some point, you must arrive at something that does exist, and isn't dependent upon something else for its existence."

    A ring has no start or end. Neither do a sphere. I get the idea that you're trying to establish that a ring necessarily has to have a start and an end, because if it didn't, it couldn't exist. And since it exists, it needs to have a start and an end.

    Whether God exists or not, naturally depends on what the definition of God is. If the definition is simply "the thing that is necessary for the universe to exist", then it is hard to deny the existence of God. I can't personally imagine a universe with limits. What would be outside it? Empty space, solid matter? I would still see those as part of the universe. The bottom line is, I have no idea how to imagine an end to the universe. Which again leads to me having no idea how to imagine anything existing outside the universe. Sure, one could imagine that the universe is a blob, with a dot representing God outside the blob. But that is not how I imagine the universe at all.

  • BrianKillian

    What's so bad about probabilistic arguments or abductive inferences? It's a form of reasoning that has much in common with science, and so is a form of reasoning that is acceptable to many people today.

    The same can't be said about these medieval arguments which presuppose an Aristotelian framework that just seems so alien to people today. Ironically, since probabilistic or abductive arguments are more familiar to science minded people, they will consequently also seem more certain to those same people. While the supposed certainty of Scholastic deductive proofs will not appear certain at all.

    Those Scholastic proofs do not escape being probabilistic anyway due to the fact that the certainty of the arguments are contingent on the premises being true. And the squabbling of scholars over the meaning and value of those premises just proves that the premises are anything but self-evident. Therefore, the conclusion will always be tentative and contingent on the likelihood of the premises being true and/or meaningful.

    A lesson from Paul in the (non-digital) Areopugus. If you want to convince someone of something, frame your proposal in the language and the framework of your audience (in Paul's case the Altar to the unknown god). You don't make the audience learn a language and framework that's centuries in the past and foreign. That's apologetical suicide or worse, presumptuous and triumphalist posturing.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Amen, brother!

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I must say that I find probabilistic arguments to be unimpressive, since you always have to condition on something, and how could you possibly prove the "existence" of The Unconditioned by conditioning.

      But abductive reasoning, now that is great stuff. I think it needs to go well beyond abductive reasoning on scientific matters. It would need to get to abductive reasoning in relation to social narratives. (And before that, one might consider whether there could be any such thing as a "correct" social narrative.)

      I think all of Stacy Transacos' work on the birth of science is an awesome step in this direction, though I personally would have framed it in far less confident language. Again, you have to be attentive not just to the validity of your arguments, but also to the way the audience will hear things. (On the other hand, I would concede that combative language can be a good way to get peoples' attention.)

  • Kyle Williams

    I don't understand on what basis the assertion in step 3 of argument I is made. "At some point, you must arrive at something that does exist, and isn't dependent upon something else for its existence."

    You could prove this step using Zorn's lemma but then the argument would depend on the un-provable axiom of choice. (I'll explain these if you aren't familiar with them)

  • Andrej Tokarčík

    From the article:

    [C]ertain things about God can only be known by revelation. For example, you could never arrive at the Trinity from reason alone. Indeed, if everything about God could be known fully by reason alone, there would hardly be any reason for revelation.

    Does the implication hold? To the contrary, Saint Thomas writes in the very first article of his Summa (STh, I. Q. 1 A. 1):

    Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation.

    Thus, it seems, there would still be good reasons for divine revelation even if it was the case that "everything about God could be known fully by reason alone".

  • William Davis

    The necessary being could be the universe itself of course, by this argument. We know from quantum physics that on the fundamental level some events are un-caused, such as the decay of a radioactive atom. This line of thinking makes a great deal of assumptions (like the necessity of underlying cause) that may not be completely true, though they sound good and are true in normal human experience.