The Fallacy of “The Fallacy of Composition” Objection

On an excellent website I hadn’t visited in years, but stumbled upon today, I found an article on the Cosmological argument from Contingency, which, as many of you reading this may know, I find to be compelling. It summarizes the cosmological argument from contingency in the following way:

The Argument from Contingency

(1) Everything that exists contingently has a reason for its existence.
(2) The universe exists contingently.
Therefore:
(3) The universe has a reason for its existence.
(4) If the universe has a reason for its existence then that reason is God.
Therefore:
(5) God exists.

I rather like that formulation (though I see problems with using the term ‘universe’ as opposed to ‘world’). However, on the same website there is a follow up article titled “Is the Universe Contingent?” Though I have heard several ways to object to the cosmological argument which I think are much better than the response in the article, the article surprised me in that it hung it’s entire case against the argument on one poorly articulated objection: the fallacy of composition. It was so astonishingly bad that I felt compelled to blog about it. The article reads:

The fallacy of composition is the fallacy of inferring from the fact that every part of a whole has a property, that the whole has that property too.

If every track on the CD is less than five minutes long, though, then it doesn’t follow that the whole CD is less than five minutes long. Sometimes every part of a whole has a property that the whole itself does not have.

So does the contingency of every part of the universe imply that the universe as a whole is contingent? Apparently not. For in order for the universe to be necessarily existent, it need only be the case that there must exist something rather than nothing; it need not be the case that anything in particular must exist, just that at least one of the many things that might exist must exist, no matter which one it is.

If a single being must exist, if it is necessary, then it just is an incontingent being. Perhaps the author of the article thinks that if something exists necessarily without it being the case that the idea of that thing involves its existence, then they have somehow avoided the inference from an incontingent thing to a being which exists in all logically possible worlds. However, that is just confused: to say that some one thing has always existed, does exist, and will continue forever to exist, is not to say that it exists of necessity. If it exists of necessity (i.e., if it must exist), then the idea of the thing does involve existence, and it is incontingent. However, to say that a being is incontingent just is to say that it exists in all logically possible worlds; in other words a being X is incontingent if and only if a being X is necessary. That’s what logicians mean when they talk about a ‘necessary’ being, and it’s what the theologian means when talking about God.

The fallacy of composition, like any other fallacy, is called a fallacy because it involves an inference which isn’t always and everywhere truth-preserving. Here, however, one has to exercise some critical thinking in order to discover whether the cosmological argument is guilty of making an inference which isn’t always and everywhere truth preserving. I think that because contingency is transitive from part to whole, one cannot commit the fallacy of composition in its case. Consider, for instance, if I were to infer from the fact that the parts of a thing had some spacial extension, that the whole thing must have some spacial extension – would I be committing a fallacy there? No, I wouldn’t, and it is because the property ‘having some spacial extension’ is transitive from part to whole. So, obviously, is contingency. As Copleston once said:

“If you add up chocolates you get chocolates after all and not a sheep. If you add up chocolates to infinity, you presumably get an infinite number of chocolates. So if you add up contingent beings to infinity, you still get contingent beings, not a Necessary Being. An infinite series of contingent beings will be, to my way of thinking, as unable to cause itself as one contingent being.”

So, not only does the Fallacy of Composition objection fail when charged against the cosmological argument from contingency, but the article to which I have referred doesn’t even state the objection coherently, since it refers to one thing which must exist in order to avoid the inference to an incontingent thing, but a thing which must exist is an incontingent being. They are semantic synonyms.

In the interest of practicing charity, maybe we could try to interpret the article in a more positive light. Perhaps the author of the article meant that even if there is an incontingent being it need not have all of the superlative attributes Theists predicate of God, and so the argument fails to establish that ‘God’ exists, instead of establishing, more trivially, that an (indefinite article) incontingent being exists. However, all the cosmological argument intends to establish is that one incontingent being exists which is the sufficient explanation for the world (understood as the totality or aggregate of real or imagined beings which do not contain in themselves the sufficient reason of their existence). That is what all Theists recognize as God. Perhaps the cosmological argument doesn’t prove that God is all knowing, or that God is all loving, but it would establish that what Theists refer to by using the word ‘God’ (namely, a necessary being distinct from the world and which explains the existence of the world, being the sufficient reason for the world) does exist. To claim that this incontingent being does not have some superlative attributes is just to say, as the Theist will understand it, that God does not have some superlative attributes.

In any case, this ‘charitable’ interpretation of the article takes the objection to be something other than the fallacy of composition, but this interpretation seems impossible since the article makes it so clear that it is the fallacy of composition objection which it intends to advance. Thus, even on a very charitable interpretation, this turns out to be a clumsy objection to the cosmological argument from contingency. I submit that the article in its present form represents an abject failure insofar as it attempts to object to the cosmological argument, and not only does it reproach the argument for a fallacy it doesn’t commit, but it fails to articulate its objection coherently since it appeals to a being which must exist.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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16 Responses to The Fallacy of “The Fallacy of Composition” Objection

  1. Debilis says:

    This is an excellent response to a (poor) rebuttal I’ve encountered several times.
    The contingency argument is my personal favorite of the cosmological arguments, and I’m sure I’ll be referencing this post from time to time.

    Thanks for putting this up.

  2. Persto says:

    Firstly, why couldn’t the reason the universe exists be for gods instead of for God? Aristotle allowed for multiple prime movers.

    Secondly, how do you know the universe is contingent and not a necessary being, an eternal brute fact? The idea of infinite regress seemed like an obvious absurdity until the nineteenth century. But now, even though scientists and mathematicians talk about the beginning of the universe and the relativity of time, they no longer consider an infinite regress as necessarily impossible. Without the idea that infinite regress is an absurdity, the argument loses its main premise.

    Thirdly, the force of this sort of argumentation resides in the dilemma: either there is a non-contingent being or the universe is ultimately unintelligible. Clearly the argument of contingency is persuasive only if the second alternative has been ruled out. However, it has not only not been ruled out, but represents the atheist’s position.

    Finally, I am quite certain you believe in the existence of a personal, completely good God but to get from the god of the argument of contingency to the god of theism requires an extraordinary leap in logic. This sort of argumentation may lead you to accept that the world was created in time and it may offer a hint of a divine creation, but more evidence is necessary to get to the God of theism.

    Regards

    • Good questions Persto, and welcome to the blog.
      Suppose:
      (1) There is at least one contingent being.
      (2) If there is at least one contingent being, then there is at least one incontingent being.
      Now, in addition to that, suppose the following:
      (3) If there is at least one incontingent being, then there is at least one necessary being.
      (4) If there is at least one necessary being, then there is at least one maximally great being.
      And finally,
      (5) If there is at least one maximally great being, then there is only one maximally great being.
      Above I’ve outlined the steps which I would take to get from at least one incontingent being existing, to God existing (God being understood here to be the maximally great being). Now, the leap from one incontingent being to a necessary being is not a leap at all, seeing as a being X is incontingent if and only if a being X is necessary. However, for a being to be necessary means that it’s idea involves existence. The only thing, the idea of which involves existence, is a maximally great being (I would challenge you to think of any alternative without contradiction). However, if at least one maximally great being exists, then God exists and is the (definite article, singular) maximally great being. How does this follow? Well, it for reasons I have argued before: see this post.
      Also, I’m studying Aristotle closely this semester, and currently reading the Metaphysics. Could you please point me to a passage, or a set of passages, where you think that exegetical note you made about him allowing for more than one prime mover is evidenced? Thanks.
      Second, we know the universe is not a necessary being (by the way, a being cannot be both a necessary being and its existence a brute fact, on pain of contradiction – a brute fact is a fact which literally has no explanation of its truth, but a necessary being exists such that it explains itself). Moreover, the idea of an infinite regress did not seem to be an absurdity to the majority of philosophers at any time, including the middle ages, and the same is true today; the argument I made is indifferent to whether there is or is not an infinite regress (please read Copleston over carefully).
      “Thirdly, the force of this sort of argumentation resides in the dilemma: either there is a non-contingent being or the universe is ultimately unintelligible. Clearly the argument of contingency is persuasive only if the second alternative has been ruled out.”
      Yes, that is quite right. However, to say that the universe is unintelligible is just to slip into irrationalism – it is to argue that our reasoning faculty is just not able to ask questions about our universe with confidence. However, I am a rationalist, and I believe that the laws of logic and the inferences of modal logic, at least insofar as they are truth-preserving, are trustworthy guides to truth in any and all cases. If the Atheist or Naturalist wants to say that the Universe is ultimately unintelligible then that just means that when talk about the universe comes up the Atheist must throw her hands up and say ‘reason is no good here, modal logic is not trustworthy here, the universe as a whole is entirely beyond our reason’. However, that’s just as bad as a Fideist who does the same when talk about ‘God’ comes up.

      “Finally, I am quite certain you believe in the existence of a personal, completely good God but to get from the god of the argument of contingency to the god of theism requires an extraordinary leap in logic. ”
      I disagree, as I’m sure you could have anticipated. I think we can prove that if one incontingent being exists, then God exists with most or all of his superlative attributes. Here are two ways I’ll sketch briefly, the first to establish some of them, the second to establish all of them. First, if God is a being distinct from the world, then we can know that he must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, and also personal. Personal because the only things which are timeless spaceless and immaterial are either disembodied minds, or Universals (abstract objects). However, as Dr. William Lane Craig argues, part of the very definition of being an abstract object instead of a concrete one is that it must be causally effete – platonic forms cannot cause anything. However, it is logically possible for personal minds to cause things. Since a personal mind is the only possible candidate for this ‘incontingent’ being, then God (meaning this incontingent being) must be personal. I could also adapt an argument from Robin Collins’ Axiarchism to argue for God’s goodness, but I digress (busy morning, please forgive me). The second way is to argue, as I did above, that once one admits that there is one incontingent being, one can know that the only being possibly fitting the description of a necessary being is a maximally great being (just reflect rationally on it and I think it is obvious – which is why all sophisticated Atheists I’ve encountered, including Russell, argue that it is not possible that there be a necessary being). In other words, one can couple the cosmological argument with an ontological argument, and that will establish, if successful, all of the superlative attributes (I am thinking in particular of using Plantinga’s modal ontological argument here).

      Have a good morning. Cheers – (with a coffee cup).

  3. Persto says:

    Hi, nice to be here.

    What if more than one contingent being exists? What if there are multiple worlds? Our God might be the bloke who didn’t take notes during the creation lecture.

    However, let us say, for the sake of argument, I allow the existence of only one contingent being. I’m with you until you say the necessary being must be the maximally great being. I just don’t see how that follows. Even if, as Anslem’s ontology suggests, there exists the being for which nothing greater can be conceived I don’t see how these beings get to the maximally great stage. God may be necessary but being necessary does not make you good, although I may be showing my metaphysical prejudices here.

    The Aristotle passage is in his Physics. I’ll find the exact portion I am referencing and shoot it to you later on today.

    Ahh, but I said eternal brute fact. I think that changes the game a bit. The universe is necessary but unintelligible.

    The idea of infinite regress does not tell me there is an infinite number of contingent realities, but, simply, the universe did not have a beginning and has always existed. No act was necessary. The universe is an eternal brute fact. The, as I phrase it, eternal unintelligible necessary being.

    Of course, you could make a claim similar to Aquinas that, even if the universe existed eternally, it would still require a prime mover to keep it in motion. Although, Aquinas’ argument seems to defy Occam.

    I don’t see it that way. I am not suggesting the ‘Why is there a universe at all? or Why is there something and not just nothing? questions are meaningless–although if there was nothingness we wouldn’t be here to ask these questions. No, not at all, science and philosophy have taught us a great deal about these questions over the centuries. My position is that these are valid questions, but the proper response to them is, “I don’t know the answer to why we’re here, if there is a correct explanation, and what’s more, I don’t know anyone else who does.”

    Once again, I don’t see how being necessary makes God maximally great. In empty space, there are virtual particles popping in and out of existence in a time span so short they are nearly undetectable. This seems to redefine the word ’empty’ but it also seems to indicate that something is more unstable than nothing. If this is the case, not only should something come from nothing but the laws of physics require this to occur. Suppose that the universe itself was its own cause, an idea viewed by many scientists as plausible. If this is true then the universe becomes a necessary being, but not a maximally great one. Suppose:

    (1) Everything in the universe has a purely natural cause.
    (2) So, the universe has a purely natural cause.
    (3)If the universe has a purely natural cause then that cause is a necessary cause.
    (4)If the universe has a necessary cause and the universe has a natural cause then the universe must have caused itself.
    (5)If the universe caused itself then it is the only necessary being.
    (6)Therefore the universe is the only necessary being.
    (7)Since the universe is the only necessary being then it must be the only maximally great being.
    (8)Therefore the universe is the only maximally great being.

    Surely, you would not accept that the universe is maximally great?

    Regards

    • jerry says:

      Most excellent reply here. I see no one has attempted to challenge it!
      I’d also like to add to this another error I see in the OP’s reasoning that came to mind after reading your objection.. That is that they implicitly assume that there are two realities. ( notice how they use the word universe equivocally with reality) A natural world and a supernatural one. This of coarse is question begging. For example, we could argue…

      1.) Existence is everything that exist
      2.) god exist
      therefore – god is part of existence

      Now their argument doesn’t work if god is part of existence And if he exist then he must necessarily be a part of existence by definition. Also this contradicts Christian teachings about the nature of god. (eg)

      1.) everything that exist began to exist
      2.) god exist
      therefore – god began to exist.

      • Jerry,

        I don’t usually respond to comments on this blog anymore (because I run a different one). However, your comment just happened to catch my eye on a sleepless night, so I thought I’d offer some quick thoughts for your consideration.

        First, nowhere does Christian doctrine claim that everything which exists began to exist. It isn’t in the creeds, it isn’t confessed by the Church, it is never implied or insinuated in the Bible, it is logically incompatible with Theism (etc.), and for all these reasons (putting aside historical reasons) the Church have never once professed to believe that.

        I don’t see how I have implicitly assumed a division between the natural and supernatural worlds (the former would presumably include trees, whales, etc., while the latter would include mathematical objects, ethical principles, the laws of logic, etc.). Even if I had assumed this kind of division, I can’t see how it could be question-begging for me to do so. Finally, the ‘is’ is ambiguous in your first premise ‘Existence is everything that exists.’ In one sense you might say that existence is just to be the value of a bound variable, sure. However, let’s not get our sense and reference mixed up here – clearly I can have the concept of existence without a concept of everything which (presently) exists. A philosophical analysis on existence might lead us to other arguments for God’s existence (see Vallicella), but what I offered above had nothing to do with any of that.

        I may as well say a word or two in response to Persto as well. For starters, it isn’t clear that (2) follows from (1), for every member of the universe could have a cause without any collection of them having a cause. Premise (3) is also suspicious precisely because it juxtaposes ‘natural’ with ‘necessary’ rather than ‘contingent’ with ‘necessary.’ There are some other minor problems with the argument, but let’s move on some more interesting points.

        First, it is good that you acknowledge the meaningfulness of the question ‘why is there something rather than nothing.’ However, you give some indication of having drunk some of Krauss’ Kool-Aid, so allow me to clarify something: the word nothing means not anything (i.e., universal negation). So ‘nothing’ does not refer. When Krauss uses the term nothing he is (consciously) equivocating; when he says nothing in his qualified sense what he means is the quantum foam (which is, after all, a physical system). So, three points need to be made: first, because he has completely redefined the term ‘nothing’ to suit his purposes, he hasn’t even begun to touch on Leibniz question of why there is something rather than nothing. Second, the quantum foam does not pre-exist the singularity (or beginning point, if you prefer a different model), and so cannot have caused the universe (unless there is a strange species of backwards causation, but that would be circular, for the universe would then be causing itself). Third, the laws of physics are, at best, abstract objects, but abstract objects are causally effete (and this is precisely what makes them abstract rather than concrete, is their ability to stand in causal relations). Therefore, the laws of physics cannot ’cause’ anything (let alone the beginning of the universe).

        I hope that helps. Cheers.

        For those of you interested in catching my new blog, check out http://www.tylerjourneauxgraham.wordpress.com

  4. Persto says:

    That should read ‘nothing is more unstable than something.’ Sorry, for the sloppiness. I had an exam this morning.

  5. Persto says:

    Aristotle’s Metaphysics Lambda chap. 8:

    But it is necessary, if all the spheres combined are to explain the observed facts, that for each of the planets there should be other spheres (one fewer than those hitherto assigned) which counteract those already mentioned and bring back to the same position the outermost sphere of the star which in each case is situated below the star in question; for only thus can all the forces at work produce the observed motion of the planets. Since, then, the spheres involved in the movement of the planets themselves are–eight for Saturn and Jupiter and twenty-five for the others, and of these only those involved in the movement of the lowest-situated planet need not be counteracted the spheres which counteract those of the outermost two planets will be six in number, and the spheres which counteract those of the next four planets will be sixteen; therefore the number of all the spheres–both those which move the planets and those which counteract these–will be fifty-five. And if one were not to add to the moon and to the sun the movements we mentioned, the whole set of spheres will be forty-seven in number.

    • Well, aren’t you eager. 😛 I hope your exam went well. Ok, here’s what I would like to respond:
      Let’s start with your interesting argument
      (1) Everything in the universe has a purely natural cause.
      (2) So, the universe has a purely natural cause.
      (3)If the universe has a purely natural cause then that cause is a necessary cause.
      (4)If the universe has a necessary cause and the universe has a natural cause then the universe must have caused itself.
      (5)If the universe caused itself then it is the only necessary being.
      (6)Therefore the universe is the only necessary being.
      (7)Since the universe is the only necessary being then it must be the only maximally great being.
      (8)Therefore the universe is the only maximally great being.
      First, there is a problem with the second premise (and not just because you informally forgot to add an ‘if-then’ conditional statement before concluding to it), since just because all things in the universe have natural causes, does not logically entail that the universe have a purely natural cause. That would be to commit the fallacy of composition. Every human being has a mother, but it doesn’t follow from that that the human race (which is nothing other than its members) has a mother. To see this, imagine a world which has existed infinitely, every member of which was caused by another member, and all the members were natural – would there need to be a natural cause of the whole infinite set of members? No, I don’t see why that would be. Moreover, and more significantly, there is just such a logically possible world in which God exists as the sufficient reason for why this infinite set of natural members exists.
      However, there are deeper problems. First, suppose I followed you from 1-4, and then added (4b) But it is not logically possible that the universe cause itself. Then I’d be able to work my way back to getting a contradiction with the second premise, and argue that, therefore, it is not the case the universe has a purely natural cause (essentially turning your argument into an argument against Naturalism). Of course, if the Multiverse is a natural hypothesis, then that just argues to the falsity of premise (4). Moreover, Premise (3) is obviously wrong since it cannot follow from the universe having a cause of any kind, that the cause is a necessary cause. I wonder why you shifted the argument from talk about sufficient reason, to talk about causation; when one talks of a necessary cause, I’m not even sure what one even means (I think it is just confused – beings could be necessary, and propositions could be necessary, but I can’t imagine a cause being necessary). Perhaps you mean that the causal agent was a necessary being, but then why not just say that? I could go on, but I digress; I don’t think this argument is any good, and I don’t even think it would be salvageable if it were only more carefully articulated.
      Also, because I think there is some confusion here, I want to clarify that by a ‘maximally great’ being, what Logicians mean is a being which has all the great making properties maximally. Thus, if being powerful is a great making property, then a maximally great being would have the property of being maximally powerful (omnipotent). If Knowing is a great making property, then a maximally great being would be maximally knowing (omniscient). If existing independently (where independence is here measured in how few things need obtain for some thing to obtain/instantiate) is a great making property, then a maximally great being is maximally independent (i.e., the existence of the being would obtain at all logically possible worlds – or, regardless of what else holds). The universe cannot be a maximally great being unless it had all of the superlative attributes Theists believe God to have, and perhaps these include things like ‘intelligence’, being ‘loving’, etc.
      You say: ” I don’t see how being necessary makes God maximally great.”
      Well, first, my argument wasn’t that being necessary makes God maximally great (I think that God is a maximally great being by definition), my claim was that something’s being necessary would entail it’s being maximally great. How did I go from ‘necessary’ to ‘maximally great’? Well, I argued that to be necessary means that a thing’s essence involves existence (alternatively, that the idea of it involves existence). However, there is nothing conceivable, the idea of which involves existence, other than a maximally great being. To see this, try to think of some thing which exists in all logically possible worlds (i.e., is a necessary being), and which isn’t identical to what the Theist refers to as ‘God’. We can argue about superlative attributes separately if you like, but I think that the modal ontological argument presented by Alvin Plantinga compliments the cosmological argument from contingency such that they combine to argue for a necessary and maximally great being’s being. Perhaps you can think of a thing, the idea of which involves its existence, and which isn’t a ‘maximally great being’? I can’t think of any, and I think it’s because it is literally confused to think that such a thing is possible. Perhaps you disagree? If you do, please do take a shot: what being’s essence involves existence without that being’s being the being that Theists refer to as ‘God’.
      Even if you could, however, it seems to me that the cosmological argument alone can establish that the incontingent thing is not contingent, and it would follow, therefore, from matter’s being contingent that the being would be immaterial. In this way one can advance the argument I presented earlier for this cause of the universe being a personal being (adapting an argument from William Lane Craig). Notice that the cosmological argument aims to establish that there exists a being distinct from the world, which explains the world (why there is something rather than nothing). If you conceded that the world is defined as the totality or aggregate of contingent beings then obviously to talk about something which is distinct from the world is to talk about a being which transcends the world. Whatever this thing is, it has to be extremely powerful, since it has the ability to make all those things which do exist, exist (along with plausibly making many things which do not exist, exist). As such analysis continues, one gets closer and closer to Theism, such that the difference seems more and more negligible. But in any case, I want to digress from this ‘analytic’ approach and go back to the point I made about the conceptual analysis of ‘necessary’ being being maximally great.
      You say: ““I don’t know the answer to why we’re here, if there is a correct explanation, and what’s more, I don’t know anyone else who does.”
      Forgive me for saying so, but this answer strikes me as arrogant (please don’t misunderstand). It is arrogant insofar as you say that you know that nobody else you know knows the answers to these questions (which is an ambitious form of agnosticism). I believe that it is possible for people to know the answer to such questions (and not just because I’m a rationalist). I think that the person who isn’t a rationalist should still maintain a reserved optimism about the possibility of somebody else knowing the answer to such a difficult question. I think that I have found the answer to this question (though not on account of my own brilliance, but on account of others like Leibniz, Aquinas, Plato, Aristotle, Parmenides, etc). I am also trying to, whenever I give the cosmological argument from contingency, share how I think I know this, and how I think others can know it too. If you know me (in any way, which I think you do since we’re communicating) then there is at least one person you know who may know why there is something rather than nothing (namely, because it is not logically possible for nothing to exist, – or – there is a necessary being).
      You said: “In empty space, there are virtual particles popping in and out of existence in a time span so short they are nearly undetectable. This seems to redefine the word ‘empty’ but it also seems to indicate that | nothing is more unstable than something. | If this is the case, not only should something come from nothing but the laws of physics require this to occur. Suppose that the universe itself was its own cause, an idea viewed by many scientists as plausible. If this is true then the universe becomes a necessary being, but not a maximally great one.”
      So, this comes from Lawrence Krauss, and it is one of those syntactical mistakes I’m very tired of seeing. Krauss is, as philosophers the world over have been telling him, guilty of equivocation – he’s using the word ‘nothing’ as a noun, to designate some-thing (in particular, the Quantum Vacuum, which is NOT nothing). The word nothing is a term of universal negation, it’s function is to negate predicates. So, when I say that ‘nothing is bigger than the sun’ what I mean to say is that there is not anything which is bigger than the sun (and not that empty space is bigger than the sun). Moreover, if I said ‘nothing is beautiful’ I would be saying that there is not anything which is beautiful, but I would not be saying that the Quantum Vacuum is beautiful. The word nothing is symbolized in Logic with the ‘~’ symbol, such that to say ‘nothing is beautiful’ can be written out as ~(∃x)Bx. However, to reify ‘nothing’ into a noun, to make the word ‘nothing’ in your language-game refer to something, and then argue that something can come from ‘nothing’ is just equivocation if the statement is intended to answer Leibniz’ question. It has nothing to do with Leibniz’ question, it’s just a very misleading (violently misleading) trick of the tongue for rhetorical purposes. It remains the case that it is not logically possible that something come from nothing, where ‘nothing’ means ‘not-anything’.

      Concerning the quote from Aristotle, thank you for getting that to me. However, I submit to you that you have misunderstood what constitutes, for Aristotle, the ‘prime-mover’ in Metaphysics. The unmoved mover (maybe you make a distinction between prime-mover and unmoved mover??) is singular in the works of Aristotle, and it is ‘God’ (though Aristotle’s conception of God differs significantly from any Judeo-Christian notion in that God is immutable and therefore cannot be encountered dynamically as a personal being). There is only one such prime mover (even though, in other senses, Aristotle might allow for other prime-movers, for example human being who have free will are perhaps in some sense prime-movers, but they aren’t The prime mover referred to in Aristotle’s Metaphysics).

  6. c emerson says:

    My compliments again for excellent civil debate (above). I just left this comment on Robert Oerter’s blog post, re his discussion with you:

    “I’d like to cite Addy Pross’ book, What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology on Amazon.com here, which I previously cited on Grundy’s post, Gaps All the Way Down, here and plan to cite on Ed Feser’s post, Craig versus Rosenberg, here, and on Tyler’s post, The Fallacy of “The Fallacy of Composition” Objection, here. Pross supports my request that we add in poker and a nice big pinch of thermodynamics to some of the discussions of science and the existence of God. [It took awhile but I finally found where I got the Pross link from – it was Jerry Coyne’s post, Paul Davies, chemistry, and the origin of life, here].”

    Civility leads to knowledge. Thanks.

    [I see that the links embedded in my comment did not copy over, so I hope the link I embedded here to Oerter’s blog, Somewhat Abnormal, does work].

  7. Persto says:

    I think I did quite well. Thank you.

    I actually agree with you. It is a poor argument. I was just trying, rather hurriedly, to create an argument that kind of highlighted why I didn’t think a maximally great being followed logically from a necessary being. I failed. I study history and biochemistry. I’m not much of a philosopher, as I am sure you can tell. Although, the subject interests me and I take philosophy classes when I can, but I don’t think you can classify me as anything other than something below an amateur philosopher.

    It seems to me Aristotle is showing that there are 47 or 55 prime movers. I agree it is odd, since he argues elsewhere for a single prime mover, but it does appear, to me at least, that Aristotle is talking about more than one prime mover.

    I think you misunderstand me. I intend to search for an answer and I think I could possibly find it, but, as of yet I haven’t heard an argument that is persuasive enough, either way.

    I understand your argument better but I still can’t get myself to follow you to a maximally great being. I’m going to do some more research on this and get back to you.

    I have heard Krauss make that point before, but I first heard it in astronomy class. I must say, your explanation of Krauss’ slip is the best I have heard. Very informative. Thank you.

    Something is bothering me though. It seems, that the primordial universe is reducible to an extensionless point, which somehow exploded from ‘nothing.’ Couldn’t that ‘nothing’ be the quantum vacuum fluctuations that we now consider to be ‘nothing’? In other words, couldn’t the original ‘nothing’ have been the quantum vacuum ‘nothing?’ If this is true, wouldn’t Krauss have a point? Although, the big bang fits pretty nicely with the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, so his argument is probably not that effective anyway.

    Very thought-provoking reply. Thank you.

    • I want to begin by saying that your last comment was particularly refreshing, thank you for demonstrating humility and intellectual integrity, and even as an amateur philosopher (all of us are philosophers, some just take it more seriously than others) I appreciate that you did try to engage the argument in an interesting way. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the intellectual honesty involved in recognizing that some objection or argument is not a great one (something I haven’t seen enough of lately, for my taste).

      Finally, concerning Krauss, nothing, and the universe: I may just write a post about Krauss’ egregious syntactical error (I’ve thought about doing it for a while now – I think I can even work Carnap in!). The only reason I haven’t already is that it seems so obvious to me, but that’s likely because I am a philosopher.

      About the Big-Bang, I think the suggestion that the singularity popped into existence from out of a prior-state we can identify as a quantum vacuum fails to take the standard cosmological model (Big-Bang cosmology) seriously, as according to it there is literally a first point in time before which nothing material, spacial, temporal, etc, existed. That means no quantum vacuum. Now, perhaps some very odd non-physical quantum vacuum exists, such that we can it is analogous to the quantum vacuum, however that would be to postulate something entirely beyond what the canons of empirical reason can license (and note that it could never be observed, verified or falsified, on even the widest and most generous definitions of those terms).

      Finally, and this is an important point: one of the reasons I am compelled by the cosmological argument from contingency is that it is indifferent to whether the universe ever had a beginning, or whether there is a multiverse-ensemble. So long as there is at least one contingent being, there is necessarily a ‘necessary’ being (as per the argument). All of the talk about whether the Big-Bang really does represent a creation ex nihilo is in this sense, irrelevant to the issue of whether this argument works. I myself do believe that the standard Big-Bang cosmological model is correct, and I do believe that it represents the creation ex nihilo, and perhaps I could construct some kind of Kalam Cosmological argument from that (though I would prefer a formulation which didn’t assume an A-theory of time, as Dr. Craig’s does, because I am a B-theorist about time), but the Kalam cosmological argument is not the same as the cosmological argument from contingency, and the latter is really independent of empirical knowledge, and requires only that one comprehend the soundness of its deductions, and accept that there is at least one being which can possibly not exist, and for which there must be some sufficient reason (on pain of brute facts – which are literally the greatest cop outs in all of metaphysics).

      Oh, and Finally*finally, just to drive it home: “In other words, couldn’t the original ‘nothing’ have been the quantum vacuum ‘nothing?’ If this is true, wouldn’t Krauss have a point? ” Simply put: no. If the singularity arose from anything even analogous to a quantum vacuum then it is a physical entity, and has properties (just as a Multiverse-ensemble might be called physical precisely because, if it exists, it would presumably belong to the ‘final physics’). In other words, the reason Krauss is wrong is that he uses ‘nothing’ as a subject/noun instead of a term of universal negation. His error is not that he predicates incorrectly, but that he is violating syntax itself.

      • Persto says:

        Thank you. That was very kind of you to say. My goal is to question–not only others but myself as well–so I can learn. I believe Socrates said it best: The unexamined life is not worth living.

        Yes, it seems reasonable that the original ‘nothing’ was/is distinct from the current ‘nothing,’ since virtual particles are, in fact, real particles.

        It seems very similar to Aquinas’ argument in that regard, at least in my opinion, and Aristotle’s Metaphysics, where one does not have an explanation at all unless one knows what purpose a thing or an event serves. Though, Empedocles’ argument for an early version of natural selection was rejected as a result of its non-teleology. (Off topic–a number of very smart scientists, that I converse with on a daily basis, think Darwin was the first to propose the theory of natural selection. Most of them are shocked when I tell them that Empedocles argued for it 2300 years before Darwin!)

        Yes, I quite agree with you on Krauss.

        PS– Just so you know I try to follow the path of Descartes in accepting as true only those ideas that are demonstrably true to me. So, at times, I can be difficult to convince, but I believe I am earnestly searching for truth.

  8. “I try to follow the path of Descartes in accepting as true only those ideas that are demonstrably true to me.”
    Well, maybe I can demonstrate to you that you ought not follow Descartes in this way 😛

    I suppose you could, but as Descartes was a thoroughgoing rationalist he would call all your beliefs into question (including beliefs which seem tautological or analytic, such as that bachelors are unmarried, or that two and two make four). Descartes argues that we could be wrong about even these (as perhaps an evil demon is in control of my mind such that every time I do the calculation of two and two adding to four, he is both making me do the calculation wrong, and making me feel as though I’m right – and we’ve all had the experience on math exams of being sure we were doing some calculation right, but getting back the test only to find we were wrong). Descartes says that we should doubt everything about which it is even possible for us to be wrong, and the only way Descartes works his way out of that mess is by getting to God. As Descartes said, and Husserl repeated, and I think I would repeat again: without God, we cannot know anything at all. This seems to be because without God we have no way to justify our assumption in reliabilism (the belief that at least most of our beliefs are correct). On Theism, as Descartes says, God, being all good, would not allow me to err without also providing me with a way to correct myself. I’m not convinced that an evolutionary model of psychology (which is to say an exclusively Naturalistic evolutionary model) is able to give us such a story.

    In other words, if you really want to follow Descartes then, like him and all the other rationalists in the early modern period along with him, you should be a Theist. Theism seems to be the only option for a rationalist (it is empiricists who are divided down the center throughout philosophy since the early modern period – but I can’t think of one rationalist who was an Atheist [Spinoza, Malebranche, Leibniz, Descartes, Christian Wolff, etc.]).

    However, I am inclined to say that you should not be that kind of hard-line rationalist in the first place. I myself am inclined to accept something like a Medieval epistemology like Exemplarism, or else to go with a very modern epistemology called ‘reformed epistemology’ (though obviously a misnomer). Alvin Plantinga’s ‘reformed epistemology’ suggests that we can be justified in believing in some beliefs apart from any arguments and/or evidence for them, so long as they are ‘properly basic’ and there exists no defeater for them. For example, most people do not have any good arguments to believe in the reality of the past – the world could have been created a few moments ago with the appearance of age (including your memories, fossils, your unpaid bills, etc). Plantinga’s claim is that you can be justified in believing in the reality of the past, even without any arguments or evidence for it, because that belief is held in a properly basic way. Similarly beliefs such as in the existence of other minds (which, by the way, even Descartes never works his way up to in the meditations), are maintained as properly basic beliefs.

    I am enough of a rationalist myself that I’m inclined to reach further than Plantinga, but I think there is something refreshing and right about this suggestion (think about it, otherwise nobody but philosophers would ever have justified beliefs about anything!). So, if I were you, I would not follow Descartes all the way, but instead advocate an approach to philosophy which is inspired by a natural desire to know the truth, rather than a fear of ever making a mistake. If you are as ‘afraid’ as Descartes was, then you will either be a Skeptic, or a Theist (who may not be able to believe in much else other than God). If you are a little more well balanced and courageous, then I think you can start to really get somewhere in the world of philosophy. Of course, I myself am an odd Theist (I am a rationalist who thinks that it literally isn’t logically possible for Theism to be false), so I don’t think that Theism is even possibly mistaken, but I do think I am justified in holding beliefs about which I could possibly and even plausibly be mistaken, and that these too can be justified (such as my belief that there is milk in the fridge).

  9. Persto says:

    Yes, I am quite sure Descartes and I would disagree on a great many things. LOL! However, I very much agree with the general sentiment of the Descartean approach. Of course, I don’t mean that I am entirely skeptical because that would make my beliefs valueless, but I do try to approach every area of study with a proper amount of skepticism. I want my beliefs to be true because I have searched for the truth; not because I am afraid of my beliefs not being true or because someone told me such and such is true or false. I want to discover the truth or falsity of my beliefs for myself. That was the point I was trying to make with that statement.

    Concerning Descartes philosophy, I think he just failed to make the degree of realism he wished to retain “evolve consistently with the total Cartesian system.” In my opinion, Descartes began his philosophical career as a direct realist and he abandoned that realism step by step and drifted into other theories of knowledge.

    Descartes found God and that saves him from total relativity, but if one must know god in order to know relative truths, then how is one to know God, or absolute truth, necessary in order to know relative truths, particularly if it is possible to know those relative truths only through the absolute truth. It seems he avoided the relativity of skepticism but did not avoid extreme subjectivism.

    For me, the philosopher who jumps to a close by absolute truth–God–in order to avoid relativism finds another kind of relativism. It appears that an absolute is utilized to perform a specific philosophical function, that is, to provide a solution to relativism, which is done by creating an explanation that is outside physical space and time. This doesn’t make knowing less relative but more. The problem becomes that these things are not relative in a way that allows access to truth in a classical way–agreement of the intellect and thing–but they are relative to something outside physical reality and time, which makes them relative in a way that disallows access to truth because they are not relative in accordance with the relation between mind and thing in a natural reality that is essential for human knowing. Descartes, Kant, Spinoza created more philosophical problems than they solved by placing God in useful metaphysical roles, in my mind.

    As to my own position, to put it simply, I see the non-being of God rather than the being, which makes God nonexistent, for me at least. That is why I am an atheist. Of course, I could trot out the problem of evil or the hiddenness of God or flaws in religion or the superfluity of god, but, while all those things play a part in my atheism, when I look to where the theist says he sees the divine; I see nothing. That is why I am an atheist.

    Also, I am not a traditional empiricist or a memorist. I am an empiricist, but more along the lines of Heraclides. I allow for the use of reason in perceiving, remembering, arguing, reasoning and making inferences, but I do not accept a special or divine power in humans in the way rationalists do.

    Finally, I want to take the conversation back to nothing. Of course, you are right about Krauss, but do you think, like Parmenides, that nothing cannot exist? If so, does it follow that it is impossible for it to exist? It seems that if nothing cannot exist that being must always exist. However, a number of philosophers, you mentioned Leibniz, are not sold on this idea of being. So, if being is not absolutely necessary then wouldn’t there be a place for nothing to exist?

    Regards

  10. Pingback: Does Micro-indeterminism entail Macro-indeterminism? | Tyler Journeaux

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