Sunday, July 27, 2008

We Require a "Necessary" Cause

As I hinted at in the last post, there are many different cosmological arguments that have been made over the years, some more persuasive than others. It probably won't come as a shock to anyone to discover that Thomas Aquinas is responsible for several of the most well known arguments.

All of the Thomist arguments are variations on a common theme, Thomas Aquinas was looking for a "first cause" for the universe, but not in a time related sense. He was looking for a "First Cause" in terms of rank. What this means is that the thing that causes must be"big enough" to adaquetely explain the resulting thing that is caused. If the thing that is caused is everything that exists, then it's cause must truly be substantial. In the case of the Thomist arguments, that thing which causes everything else must be so big, so all encompassing, that it transcends the status of "possible" and thus must have the status of a "necessary" thing.

What does this mean?

Everything you see around you is "possible," but not "necessary." Is the world such that the specific chair you are sitting in, or even you yourself, HAVE to exist? Certainly both you and the chair are "possible" since you and it exist, but could the world have been otherwise such that you or that chair did not exist? Of course it could. That is what is meant by "possible," but not "necessary." Is there anything that is absolutely necessary, such that there could be no conceivable world where that thing did not exist? That is the definition of a "necessary" thing, or being, and the question that Thomas Aquinas was trying to answer.

Below is the Thomist argument that I find most compelling:

(1) We see in the world things that exist but do not have to exist, that is to say, their existence is not necessary but merely possible, for we see them coming into and out of being.

(2) All things cannot be merely possible things, because:

(a) If a thing is merely possible, then at some time it did not exist.

(b) And if all things were merely possible, then at some time all things did not exist: there was nothing.

(c) But if at one time nothing existed, then nothing would exist now because something that does not exist cannot bring itself into existence.

(d) But this contradicts observation.

(e) Therefore, all things cannot be merely possible things; there must be something that is necessary.

I have to add a brief comment about point (b). The argument rests on this point, and this will probably be the area where the natural materialist picks his fight. However, because of the nearly universal acceptance of the "Big Bang," natural materialists will not be able to make a strong case that there was a moment in the past when nothing existed. While there have been a few attempts to incorporate the "Big Bang" into theories of an eternal universe (these theories paint a picture of a universe expanding and then reversing to collapse on itself, which in turn causes another "Big Bang," which is followed by another outward expansion, repeated endlessly into eternity) such theories have mostly received little attention and cannot be confirmed, verified, or even refuted in any way, due to our inability to see beyond the Planck Boundary. Such theories with so little to offer scientifically will never rise to a level of importance beyond "sideshow curiosity," and are thus unimportant.

That said, I think the rest of the argument is beyond reproach.

So, if the argument is true then there is such a "necessary" thing. What does that mean? It means that whatever this "necessary" thing is, it is responsible for everything else that exists. Most of us would call such a necessary thing, or being, God.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In the Beginning...

Over the next several posts I would like to present what I consider to be several compelling philosophical arguments for the existence of a God.

Let’s get started with the classic cosmological arguments. What is a cosmological argument, you ask? A cosmological argument makes the case for God from “universal causation;” that is, it is an argument based on the beginning of the universe. It will probably make more sense once you’ve seen one.

Cosmological Arguments – The Kalam Argument

The Kalam argument was originated by medieval Islamic theologian Al-Ghazali, and is probably the most well known of all the philosophical arguments for God.

(1) Everything that begins to exist requires a cause for its origin.
(2) The world began to exist.
a. There are temporal phenomena in the world
b. These are preceded by other temporal phenomena
c. The series of temporal phenomena cannot regress infinitely because an actually existing infinite series involves various absurdities.
d. Therefore, the series of temporal phenomena must have had a beginning.
(3) Therefore, the world has a cause for its origin: it’s creator.
In plain English, this argument begins with the recognition that nothing comes into being without a cause. That chair you’re sitting on, the computer you’re reading this on, even the rock used in the foundation of your house, all have a cause, whether we can discover it or not.

The next step recognizes that the universe has a beginning before which nothing existed.

The four sub-steps following (2) establish the heart of the argument. In case you didn’t know, “temporal phenomena” are simply occurrences in time; your alarm clock going off on Monday morning would be an example. In fact, everything that happens in this universe is an example of “temporal phenomena.” As we work our way backward through time, we discover that every event was preceded by other events, creating a long series of events over the course of time.

For a moment, suppose the universe had no beginning. If this was the case, then the series of “temporal phenomena,” would stretch away into the past forever – an infinite series of events. The problem is, while infinity may be useful in math, it is actually an “irrational number,” that is, a number that can’t exist. It’s literally absurd.

Allow me to demonstrate: The planet Mercury orbits the Sun once every 88 days while the planet Neptune orbits the Sun once every 60,189 days. Working under the assumption that the universe has no beginning, which planet, Mercury or Neptune, has accumulated more complete orbits of the Sun to date? The natural response would be to say Mercury (after all, it orbits the Sun approximately 684 times for every single orbit of Neptune), but that answer is wrong. Given an eternally existing universe, the correct answer would be “neither,” both would have completed an infinite number orbits.

Because of such absurdities as this one, Al-Ghazali came to the conclusion that the series of “temporal phenomena” must have a beginning, and that beginning had to be the advent of the universe. Going back to (1), everything that begins to exist must have a cause, now having established that the universe itself began to exist, we realize that it too must have a cause and that cause could only be God.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Belief in Unicorns = Belief in Christ?

Do you ever wonder what sets Christianity apart from other belief systems? Is Christianity truly more worthy of consideration than other religions we simply call myths today? What got me thinking about this was a conversation I recently heard on Dennis Prager’s radio show on May 13th, 2008. During the third hour Mr. Prager was dialoging with callers about the lack of doubt among atheists on the question of God’s existence when an atheist called up and said (I'm paraphrasing), “Of course we don’t have any doubt. Do you ever doubt the non-existence of unicorns? No you don’t. We see the existence of God the same way you see unicorns.”

This got me thinking. Is what the atheist caller said valid? What would you say to such a person? For the one who doesn’t already follow Christ, is there any reason why Christianity should be given more consideration than other religious systems, such as ancient paganism? After thinking about it for the last several weeks I have come to a conclusion:

Whether you believe in Christianity or not, there are good, objective reasons why this system stands alone on the world stage as being worthy of consideration.

There are a number of reasons that I make such a claim, although I will not be able to touch on them adequately in this post. I guess that means that I will be starting another series to flesh out my thoughts on why Christianity should be considered before other systems, and even if rejected, cannot be put in the same class as unicorns, ancient pagan religions, or even other modern alternatives.

Regarding religious systems, you’ve probably heard people say things to the effect of, “Religions are matters of faith, and matters of faith cannot be proved or disproved.” If what such a claimant means is that it may not be possible to prove the existence of God conclusively enough to sway the hardened skeptic, then I have to agree. However, all religious systems make claims about history and the way the world is that can be checked against what we know about these subjects. If we begin checking such claims and find that, over and over again, the claims don’t comport with reality, then we probably have good reason to reject the system making the claims.

For instance, Hinduism makes the basic claim that the world is an illusion and that we are all figments in the imagination of the divine unconsciousness. Because of this basic Hindu claim, I feel safe in rejecting Hinduism as a whole because the system simply doesn’t agree with reality. If you and I are only figments of some cosmic unconsciousness then why are we aware of ourselves? When you dream, the characters in your dreams don’t have individual consciousness or awareness, they don’t think they exist nor do they know they don’t exist.

To make this as simple as possible, ask yourself this question: Does Mickey Mouse know that he’s a cartoon character? No. In fact, there isn’t even a “he” there, the cartoon character is a figment of the imagination, transferred to film, of Walt Disney. As you and I are aware ourselves we can safely say that we are not figments of anyone’s imagination; or as RenĂ© Descartes would say, “Cogito ergo sum” (best known as, “I think therefore I am,” but better translated as, “I am thinking therefore I exist”).

Over the next several weeks, I will be attempting to build a case for the reasonableness of Christianity, starting with it’s most basic claims and building upon each post with more and more specific and detailed claims that Christianity makes about world around us. My current schedule (as I’m making it up in head as I write this) will look something like this:

  1. Is it reasonable to believe that God exists?
  2. If such a God did exist, could He communicate with us?
  3. Is belief in miracles reasonable?
  4. Is the Bible trustworthy?
  5. Is the resurrection reasonable?
  6. Does the Biblical worldview comport with reality?
  7. How does Christianity fare against the other leading worldviews of today?

Anyone who has done much reading in the area of theistic Philosophy will recognize these questions and will probably be familiar with most of the answers. However, I hope that my presentation might be somewhat unique in that I am attempting to put these questions together in such a way as to build a progressive case for the validity and the truthfulness of Christianity as opposed to it’s competitors today and other myths.

I have my work cut out for me.