Wisdom From Weinberg

Steven Weinberg has a characteristically insightful essay in The New York Review of Books on the conflict between science and religion. He writes, with respect to people who insist there is no conflict between them:

Some scientists take this line because they want to protect science education from religious fundamentalists. Stephen Jay Gould argued that there could be no conflict between science and religion, because science deals only with facts and religion only with values. This certainly was not the view held in the past by most adherents of religion, and it is a sign of the decay of belief in the supernatural that many today who call themselves religious would agree with Gould.

Quite right. It is also not the view held by most adherents of religion today.

Continuing from the previous quote:

Let’s grant that science and religion are not incompatible–there are after all some (though not many) excellent scientists, like Charles Townes and Francis Collins, who have strong religious beliefs. Still, I think that between science and religion there is, if not an incompatibility, at least what the philosopher Susan Haack has called a tension, that has been gradually weakening serious religious belief, especially in the West, where science has been most advanced.

Again, quite right. Relgious beliefs are sufficiently malleable, and standards of plausibility sufficiently low, that it is possible to accept the findings of modern science and also maintain traditional religious beliefs. The fact remains that religion as an intellectual enterprise has been in abject retreat for close to two centuries, and the relentless march of science has been a primary cause of that retreat. Right up through the mid-nineteenth century natural theology held an honored place in the academic curriculum, but those days are long gone. Theology is now a spectator to the grand project of understanding nature. It can only react to what scientists say, having long ago proven its worthlessness as a tool for understanding anything.

Weinberg argues that science and religion clash on a number of fronts. One of the most important of these is the following:

The problem for religious belief is not just that science has explained a lot of odds and ends about the world. There is a second source of tension: that these explanations have cast increasing doubt on the special role of man, as an actor created by God to play a starring part in a great cosmic drama of sin and salvation. We have had to accept that our home, the earth, is just another planet circling the sun; our sun is just one of a hundred billion stars in a galaxy that is just one of billions of visible galaxies; and it may be that the whole expanding cloud of galaxies is just a small part of a much larger multiverse, most of whose parts are utterly inhospitable to life. As Richard Feynman has said, “The theory that it’s all arranged as a stage for God to watch man’s struggle for good and evil seems inadequate.”

At the risk of being repetitive, this is once again exactly right. In an earlier paragraph Weinberg argued that the conflict between science and religion is not primarily (his word) that science frequently contradicts specific religious doctrines. I would agree, so long as we pay attention to the word “primarily.” The cumulative effect of one religious cleric after another finding his dogmas refuted should not be overlooked in explaining the decline of religion.

But Weinberg is right that the main conflict is between what science is telling us about ourselves vs. what religion is telling us. Religion, at least in its Christian form, has as its centerpiece the idea that human beings are the point of creation. We are the reason for it all. Any sober consideration of the evidence as we know it makes that belief look terribly naive. It is all the more telling since there is no shortage of things scientists might have discovered that would have affirmed our confidence in our own importance. If you are desperate to do so you may still graft notions of human significance onto the data of cosmic and natural history, but the fit between them is decidedly less than perfect.

After going on in this vein for several more paragrpahs Weinberg turns to the question of how one lives without God. He writes:

I’m not going to say that it’s easy to live without God, that science is all you need. For a physicist, it is indeed a great joy to learn how we can use beautiful mathematics to understand the real world. We struggle to understand nature, building a great chain of research institutes, from the Museum of Alexandria and the House of Wisdom of Baghdad to today’s CERN and Fermilab. But we know that we will never get to the bottom of things, because whatever theory unifies all observed particles and forces, we will never know why it is that that theory describes the real world and not some other theory.

Worse, the worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law and the laws of nature, of the sort imagined by philosophers from Anaximander and Plato to Emerson. We even learn that the emotions that we most treasure, our love for our wives and husbands and children, are made possible by chemical processes in our brains that are what they are as a result of natural selection acting on chance mutations over millions of years. And yet we must not sink into nihilism or stifle our emotions. At our best we live on a knife-edge, between wishful thinking on one hand and, on the other, despair.

I hear these sentiments all the time, usually from religious people, but I still do not understand them. The picture they paint is that of someone wallowing in nihilism, overwhelmed by the sheer pointlessness of it all, consciously deciding to believe in God for the purposes of extricating himself from the emotional pit. For me, living without God is the only way to live. I wouldn’t know how to believe in God even if I wanted to, and I don’t understand how other people come to have such faith.

In short, I find it easy to live without God. It’s living with God that is hard, in much the same way that it is hard to live with the invisible dragon in your garage. Surely some religious folks must grow frustrated with the complete lack of direct evidence for their beliefs. They must have noticed that nothing really changes just because you pray about it or that they go through their day to day lives without anything remotely supernatural happening. They must recognize they are playing games with language in describing, say, the birth of a child as a miracle, and that real miracles of the sort described in the Bible just never seem to happen anymore. The possibility that they are deluding themselves, that the reason so many religions put such a premium on faith is that evidence is in such embarrassingly short supply, just has to gnaw at them. How you maintain your faith in an all-powerful, all-loving God in the face of all the evidence to the contrary is the mystery. Living without God comes naturally.

Anyway, Weinberg’s essay has all sorts of other quotable nuggets, so I recommend reading the whole thing. Good stuff.

Comments

  1. #1 SLC
    September 22, 2008

    An interesting article by Prof. Weinberg. However, his comment as to the circumstances of Charles Darwin losing his faith is not entirely correct. Of equal importance to his scientific endeavors was the death of his daughter, as I recall, to scarlet fever.

  2. #2 Dan
    September 23, 2008

    That next to last paragraph pretty much describes me. Though I haven’t practiced religion in over 25 years I’ve only recently realized that the idea of an all powerful god makes no sense. I feel no despair, quite the contrary it is a relief and a joy. I thank you Jason with other science blogs, Dawkins, Dennett and others who helped me finally throw away superstition.

  3. #3 mogmich
    September 23, 2008

    I don’t agree with you and Weinberg on religion, but you are right when you say, that it is possible to live without religion.

    Science is of course important in this connection, but there is another factor which is also quite relevant: The kind of society you live in.

    I am reading a book in Danish: “Samfund uden Gud” by the American Phil Zuckerman, which I think you would find interesting. I don’t have the book written in English (“Society without God”), but there is a link here:

    http://tinyurl.com/4h9lyl

  4. #4 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 23, 2008

    Jason, here’s a point in which I suspect we agree: I don’t see why any of us should have to choose between a life open to rational investigation and a life of meaning. I haven’t suffered in my life as much as others have (as the saying goes, give me time), but I don’t think Weinberg’s response to our human condition follows…at least not for me.

    You say, to your great credit (and I totally believe you), that you find it easy to live without God. Well, I find it easy to live with a certain suspension of certainty, and that extends to my faith. I think Richard Feynman, who I admire, had a similar attitude. He found joy in the adventure of discovery. Nature was his playground, and he wasn’t a believer, but he appeared to face an uncertain mortality with great cheerfulness. I wish more of my fellow Christians could say the same. Any way, my point is that the life of discovery and meaning is open to all of us, if we choose it.

  5. #5 Crandaddy
    September 23, 2008

    In short, I find it easy to live without God. It’s living with God that is hard, in much the same way that it is hard to live with the invisible dragon in your garage.

    But an invisible dragon would be a contingent (possibly nonexistent) being; God, if he exists, would not be. It is very much a serious (and hotly debated) scholarly issue whether or not a coherent metaphysic can be had without postulating a being like God. I’ll leave aside the likewise hotly contested issue of whether the enterprise of epistemology is even possible without theism being true.

    Far be it from me to claim that theism is without difficulties, but with all due respect, Jason, You have not been reading very much scholarly work on the issue.

  6. #6 RBH
    September 23, 2008

    Crandaddy wrote

    But an invisible dragon would be a contingent (possibly nonexistent) being; God, if he exists, would not be.

    I guess I don’t follow. An invisible dragon, if it exists, would not be contingent either. The same considerations apply to both. Beg the question and you poof away contingency.

  7. #7 Thony C.
    September 23, 2008

    For me, living without God is the only way to live. I wouldn’t know how to believe in God even if I wanted to, and I don’t understand how other people come to have such faith.

    AMEN

  8. #8 Thony C.
    September 23, 2008

    I’ll leave aside the likewise hotly contested issue of whether the enterprise of epistemology is even possible without theism being true.

    Hotly contested by whom?

  9. #9 Lanny Buettner
    September 23, 2008

    My own blog offers a number of perspectives on this important issue. (http://sciencebasedreligion.blogspot.com/) Let me just say that the idea that science invalids or disproves religion is wrong for a variety of reasons.

    The most important is that there are a variety of religious traditions and persepctives which are perfectly comfortable with a science which rules out miracles and takes away the idea that humans are the special creation of God. Both Taoism and Confucianism are religious traditions which go back as far as Judaism and farther than Christianity, yet get by just fine without a personal god. The mystery of these religions, which science won’t invalidate, is how to live a life that is authentic to the universe as we find it and to our unique place in it as intelligent, self-conscious beings. Buddhism, just as ancient, actually encourages people to believe only what can be directly experienced as ultimate and take a skeptical view toward what anyone, even Buddha himself, has said or written. Unitarian Universalism, a modern development, has many atheists and agnostics in its ranks, and many scientists, like myself.

    Religion isn’t limited to Christianity. Expand your understanding of religion before religating it to the trash heap. That said, I also respect anyone who chooses to live without reference to an established religious perspective and forges his/her own ideas of how to live in the odd place we (with the help of science) find ourselves. Just remember that religion is only partly about explaining things. It is also about connecting with other people in the same existential situation, and about finding a way to live that is in harmony with the world. Science cannot provide that, but religion can.

    Also consider that the religion that considers it important to prove its theoretical concepts is going to get what it deserves when something like science comes along and disproves it. This is the disease of modern religious fundamentalists, not shared by most religious people, even Christians.

    A useful book to ponder is Quantum Questions, edited by Ken Wilber. He presents essays by the greatest scientific minds of the 20th Century, those who developed quantum mechanics, showing that they were all religious, yet all rejected the idea that science could ever prove or disprove their religious stance.

  10. #10 U.O
    September 23, 2008
    I’ll leave aside the likewise hotly contested issue of whether the enterprise of epistemology is even possible without theism being true.

    Hotly contested by whom?

    By theologians trying to justify their line of *cough* work, presumably.

  11. #11 heddle
    September 23, 2008

    Jason,

    I wouldn’t know how to believe in God even if I wanted to, and I don’t understand how other people come to have such faith.

    Like, OMG, you’re a Calvinist!

  12. #12 FastLane
    September 23, 2008

    But an invisible dragon would be a contingent (possibly nonexistent) being; God, if he exists, would not be. It is very much a serious (and hotly debated) scholarly issue whether or not a coherent metaphysic can be had without postulating a being like God.

    No offense intended, but this reads like word salad to me. Is it a rehash of Aquinas’ first (second?? I forget which.) argument?

    And if you replace ‘God’ in the above paragraph with ‘Odin’, or multiple designers per the Multiple Designers Theory, it makes just as much sense.

    The fact that it makes as much sense with kinda makes it non-contingent by definition, no?

    Or maybe I’m completely off base here, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken philosophy.

  13. #13 Glen Davidson
    September 23, 2008

    I think that the message that there really is tension between religion and science is getting through now, as it did not in the past.

    However, the message that there is unrelenting tension within religions which deny truth seems to be obscured now. Now I’m not saying that your average religious person senses much of that tension, but for anyone who belongs to reactionary religion and still thinks, there’s always some kind of tension-causing dissonance there.

    But Weinberg is quite right to speak for the problems of living without god, which generally do not afflict those who grew up secular, yet do trouble (at least for a time) most who grew up religious. The fact is that the very basis for existence, for getting out of bed in the morning, can seem to be gone, once god is out of the picture.

    How does the sun shine without a reason? Doesn’t there have to be a reason why rivers run, humans exist, and bees buzz about the flowers? The scientific answer is, “No,” but that is not the usual human answer, after all. Was it ever a satisfactory answer to humans until the present time? I don’t think so, and while many of us learn the importance of letting matters “speak for themselves,” that isn’t what many others are satisfied to do. They need the “why”, and are unsatisfied with the physics answers that science supplies.

    It is an on-going problem, and probably will be through time. Humans want “human answers,” not the “cold, impersonal answers” that science gives. That’s why we have to fight for science to be practiced and taught as science, rather than letting religious folk give the magical answers, the ones that unlearned humans typically desire.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  14. #14 Caliban
    September 23, 2008

    I can see how science has steadily eroded certain kinds of belief over the decades, but i don’t think the number of people who maintain some kind religious identity (at least here in the US) has been that greatly diminished.

    I think for the vast, overwhelming majority of believers, things like science, theology, philosophy and reason have absolutely nothing to do with why they believe.

    They believe because they want to. They like the idea of having a cosmic teddy bear that will love them forever in heaven with all their friends and family. They find such beliefs enjoyable to have and any contention that those beliefs are untrue isn’t paid any attention because it simply doesn’t interest them as a worldview.

    Also, since most believers are brought up in some kind of faith tradition, they don’t want to think that everyone they love and care for is wrong. That possibility doesn’t interest them either.

    Atheism implicitly threatens more than just a believers’ beliefs, it threatens the authority by which they think their entire culture (American/Christian) rests upon.

    And lastly, believing in things that makes you feel good is easy (like living forever in heaven). Digging into topics like science, philosophy and reason takes effort. And most people, religious or not, prefer the road of least resistance to one that has the appearance of being more difficult.

  15. #15 Chris Schoen
    September 23, 2008

    Religion, at least in its Christian form, has as its centerpiece the idea that human beings are the point of creation. We are the reason for it all.

    This is a gross generalization, and even to the extent that it is doctrinal in many denominations, the implication you draw, that the Cosmos in all its vastness was made for the satisfaction of humanity, is not founded.

    The “naive” Cosmology of Genesis is something that Christianity no longer takes seriously except in Fundamentalist sects, and not always even then. Christianity has largely succeeded in adapting to scientific discovery in the last 2,000 years, and we shouldn’t let the intractibility of the literalists lure us into believing that the Christian religion inherently prevents an unyielding opposition to scientific discovery.

    In other words I think you (and Weinberg) are setting up a fallacy of choices: either we can take the scientific path, or the religious one. This proposition is largely what has fueled the Fundamentalist movement of the last 150 years, both in the Christian and Muslim worlds (and to an extent, in Hindu and Buddhist culture as well). Told they cannot have both science and religion, many people have chosen the latter, to disastrous effect.

    Weinberg suggests “we should get out of the habit of worshiping anything,” but I’m not convinced this is even possible, depending on how you define “worship.” In the strict sense, we obviously don’t need to be completely obsequious to an infinite power, whose wishes for us are communicated in an intelligible way (scripture, visions). The fact of atheism is proof of that. But so is the fact of a great number of historical religions, which have not involved what we now call a “supernatural” being who has specific moral requirements for us (an obvious projection fantasy of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent parent).

    Weinberg writes:

    I wonder how long religion can last without a core of belief in the supernatural, when it isn’t about anything external to human beings.

    Belief in the supernatural and concern with something “external to human beings” are not the same, and religion has gotten on quite well without the former. (In Buddhism reincarnation is not supernatural in the western sense of transmigration of souls.) Animistic beliefs of “dryads in every tree” have varied over time, and cannot always be interpreted as supernatural entities. (Part of the problem is that when most religious anthropology was going on in the 19th c. there were some very careless translations into the reigning currency of mechanist metaphysics.)

    Weinberg calls this and Emersonian “spiritualism,” but it has a much older pedigree than that. Supernatural entities have never been the central element of religion, except that they symbolise (in monotheism) the infinity and completeness that contrasts with human finiteness and limitation, or (in polytheism) the natural forces, within and without us, that often spoil our best laid plans. The larger issue is how we define the world and our place in it. Even in a scientific cosmos, there is a form of worship in this, in identifying who or what is bigger than us, and how we can, or can’t, be integrated with it.

  16. #16 Chris Schoen
    September 23, 2008

    RBH,

    How would an invisible dragon not be contingent? If there were dragons, would there not be some kind of laws or causes underlying them? Even though fictional, “dragonness” is limnable. We’d know one if we saw one (and if it weren’t invisible, of course).

  17. #17 Crandaddy
    September 23, 2008

    RBH and FastLane,

    Invisible dragons, along with you and me and everything else in the physical universe, are contingent beings because it is possible to imagine a universe in which they do not exist. God would possess a unique status among beings since, as an omnipotent being, he would be the ultimate source of everything that exists independently of himself. This is known as the divine aseity, and it encompasses everything that exists from physical objects to minds to abstract objects including propositions within a given theistic model.

    So if God did not exist, then no propositions would exist (and, of course, no contingent knowers of propositions would exist either). Neither would there be any truthmakers (factual states of affairs that make propositions true) of propositions. If this were so, then neither the truth nor the truthmaker for the proposition ‘for any being x, x is identical to itself’ would exist. But this is absurd since the foregoing proposition is true in every possible world. Therefore God exists.

    I don’t necessarily endorse this particular argument, but this is kinda how one would go.

    Thony C. and U.O,

    For that particular issue, see here for just one source off the top of my head. Last I checked, Jerry Fodor was not a theologian. ;)

  18. #18 Reginald Selkirk
    September 23, 2008

    But Weinberg is quite right to speak for the problems of living without god, which generally do not afflict those who grew up secular, yet do trouble (at least for a time) most who grew up religious. The fact is that the very basis for existence, for getting out of bed in the morning, can seem to be gone, once god is out of the picture.

    Your mileage may vary. I was raised religious; Catholic, but my transition to godlessness did not cause me great turmoil. I suppose that, although a believer, my views on morality, meaning, etc. were somewhat “secular” already. So this is just a reminder that secular is not exactly the opposite of religious.

  19. #19 Reginald Selkirk
    September 23, 2008

    Invisible dragons, along with you and me and everything else in the physical universe, are contingent beings because it is possible to imagine a universe in which they do not exist. God would possess a unique status among beings since, as an omnipotent being, he would be the ultimate source of everything that exists independently of himself.

    God would possess that status if He existed. I looked up special pleading the other day, and I saw your picture. See also question begging.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    September 23, 2008

    Well, of course the Essential Precondition of Being is dragon-shaped. Space is the dragon’s scales, and Time the fire of its breath.

    Once you believe, you will understand.

  21. #21 Crandaddy
    September 23, 2008

    Reginald,

    God would possess that status if He existed.

    Right. That’s exactly my point. In fact, that’s exactly what I said, so I don’t quite understand why you would agree with me and then accuse me of special pleading and question-begging. My point in saying that was to show that it is serious folly to compare the existence of God to the existence of an invisible dragon since the ontologies of the two beings are fundamentally different. God’s special status as an ontologically necessary being (by definition, not special pleading) poses very interesting metaphysical questions.

  22. #22 Robert O'Brien
    September 24, 2008

    Like, OMG, you’re a Calvinist!

    LOL

  23. #23 Robert O'Brien
    September 24, 2008

    If God exists then He necessarily exists is a perfectly legitimate statement that can be directly translated into modal logic:

    G -> []G

  24. #24 mothergross
    September 24, 2008

    No, I’m afraid that would be a taught-ology.

  25. #25 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 24, 2008

    Blake, you crack me up.

  26. #26 Iapetus
    September 24, 2008

    Aha, looks like it is ontological-argument-time.

    “If God exists then He necessarily exists is a perfectly legitimate statement that can be directly translated into modal logic:

    G -> []G”

    Another perfectly legitimate statement that can be directly translated into modal logic:

    If Bert the Magic Penguin exists, then He necessarily exists.

    BTM -> []BTM

    The crux with all these attempts to force god into existence by logical deduction alone is that they a) even if logically valid, allow only for a vague notion of a “perfect being” with “positive attributes”, without any plausible connection to Yahweh, Allah or whatever specific deity is meant to be willed onto the stage, b) are based on axioms whose validity is anything but self-evident and c) would still have to be corroborated in the real world.

    Some thoughts about aseity/god-as-a-necessary-being:

    First of all, if god is labeled a necessary being, it is usually meant in the logical sense, i.e. necessary in all logically possible worlds. Now, one could argue that this implies the primacy of the laws of logic over god, who could thus not be their source and consequently not the ultimate source of everything.

    Second, the notion of aseity (which was erroneously conflated with omnipotence by another poster, btw), i.e. that god is underived, non-contingent, necessary etc. is burdened with some severe conceptual problems. The god of the monotheistic traditions is conceived as an entity. Every entity is uniquely defined by its attributes. So the question is: what determines god’s attributes? We basically have two options:

    a) nobody/nothing since it is a logical necessity. If this were so, it would have to be logically proven. Best wishes to anyone who wants to attempt that. Furthermore, it would again make logic completely independent of god and “prior to” or “of a higher order than” god – who could thus not be its origin because he would have to abide by its principles;

    or

    b) god himself. However, this seems positively impossible, as it would mean that god determined his own nature. Since everything is defined by its attributes, it would be equivalent to saying: “That specific thing with attributes P1,…,Pi determined these Ps”. I do not see how this could be logically possible – because in order for the designator in the first part of the sentence (“god”) to have meaning, it already has to have a definite set of properties/attributes, which negates the sentence “god determined his nature”.

    It has been proposed that god is identical with his attributes. The problem, besides not really addressing the issues listed above, is that I do not see how this could be squared with god being an entity, since we have no idea how to conceive of an entity that, rather than possessing attributes, is somehow identical with them.

  27. #27 Al
    September 24, 2008

    Interesting article.

    However, it’s clear that religion cannot withstand rational scrutiny. And while you may be able to live without god, the vast majority can’t.

    About 93% of Americans say they believe a supernatural force that has an interest in their lives. It’s clear, then, that most people are not ready or interested in the truth. To rub there noses in it accomplishes nothing.

    Voltaire’s aphorism, “If god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him,” is accurate. The truth is frightening and dangerous, and most people want nothing to do with it.

    Rather than exposing people’s existential fantasies, their noble lies, you should just go about your business. We need god?s to help stabilize our disintegrating society.

  28. #28 Crandaddy
    September 24, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Although my contention that if God exists, then he necessarily exists can be translated into modal logic, my claim actually hinges on a modality of being. If God exists, then everything else that exists would somehow have to be existentially dependent on him. If anything existed that was not either identical with God or existentially dependent on him, then the divine aseity would be violated, and God could not exist (assuming, as I think any reasonable person would, that aseity must hold for God).

    Furthermore, I think you suggest a false dichotomy between God either creating logical laws or being dependent on them. Might not logical laws and other necessary beings exist necessarily as concepts in the divine mind (a view known as theistic conceptual realism)?

    Finally, as for divine simplicity (God is identical with his attributes), I’m not quite sure what to make of this view. Specifically, I wonder how an abstract object could be a person (personhood being another necessary attribute of such a god as conceived in classical theism).

  29. #29 Iapetus
    September 25, 2008

    Crandaddy,

    Although my contention that if God exists, then he necessarily exists can be translated into modal logic, my claim actually hinges on a modality of being. If God exists, then everything else that exists would somehow have to be existentially dependent on him.

    If you would want people to see this as more than a thought experiment, you would have to provide arguments/evidence that:

    1.) this god of yours exists;

    2.) he is a necessary being; and

    3.) the rest of reality is contingent upon him.

    Even granting for the sake of argument that postulate 1 is sufficiently corroborated (which of course it is not), what could you bring to the table in support of postulates 2 and 3? Merely saying that god is necessary per definitionem will not cut it, since I can just as well define the universe, whose existence is pretty well corroborated, as a necessary entity.

    Furthermore, as I understand it, “aseic” simply means underived. It does not necessarily imply that everything else is contingent on this aseic entity. Therefore, I would be interested to hear how you logically proceed from “God is aseic” to “No other aseic entities exist”. Why could not both the universe and god be aseic?

    Furthermore, I think you suggest a false dichotomy between God either creating logical laws or being dependent on them. Might not logical laws and other necessary beings exist necessarily as concepts in the divine mind (a view known as theistic conceptual realism)?

    This does not solve the problem. When you say that certain entities exist “necessarily” in the mind of god, you are talking about logical necessity. It is thus incoherent to state that god instantiates the laws of logic out of logical necessity.

  30. #30 Crandaddy
    September 25, 2008

    Iapetus,

    Even granting for the sake of argument that postulate 1 is sufficiently corroborated (which of course it is not), what could you bring to the table in support of postulates 2 and 3? Merely saying that god is necessary per definitionem will not cut it, since I can just as well define the universe, whose existence is pretty well corroborated, as a necessary entity.

    God would have to be the existential ground in some way or other for everything that exists. Recall that I said above this would not only include contingent beings such as physical objects and minds, but also necessary objects such as necessary truths or truthmakers (e.g. logical laws). I suppose you could defuse this claim by saying that there are no necessary truths or truthmakers, but then it seems you would be biting a serious bullet.

    Furthermore, as I understand it, “aseic” simply means underived. It does not necessarily imply that everything else is contingent on this aseic entity. Therefore, I would be interested to hear how you logically proceed from “God is aseic” to “No other aseic entities exist”. Why could not both the universe and god be aseic?

    Of course it depends on how you define ‘aseic.’ I think a good definition would go as follows: a being is aseic if it contains within itself both necessary and sufficient conditions for its own being. (Incidentally, this is also how Richard Swinburne defines ‘ontological necessity.’) Now, on this definition, an aseic being would also be a necessary being for the following reasons:

    First, given that an aseic being exists, it must always have existed and must always exist:

    1) An aseic being B exists.

    2) At one time, B did not exist.

    3) Therefore, at some time t1 B did not exist, and at t2 it began to exist.

    4) Therefore, at t1 neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for B existed.

    5) For any being that begins to exist and has necessary and sufficient conditions for its existence, those conditions existed prior to the existence of said being.

    6) Therefore, if an aseic being exists, it will always have existed.

    7) Also, if at some time t3 B ceases to exist, then neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for B will have existed at t2.

    8) Therefore, an aseic being will always exist.

    Second, given that an aseic being exists, it exists in all possible worlds:

    1) An aseic being B exists.

    2) There exists some possible world P in which B does not exist.

    3) Therefore, in P neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for B exist.

    4) Possible worlds actualism (which states that possible worlds are reducible to existence claims about the actual world) is true.

    5) Therefore, neither necessary nor sufficient conditions exist for B in this world.

    6) Therefore, B does not exist.

    Thus the argument refutes itself by way of reductio ad absurdum

    So what about dependence relations? In order to understand this, we first need to understand just what we mean by a being’s being necessary and sufficient for itself. The only way I can see this is possible is if essence and existence are unified and identical in the same being. At this point, a Platonist might object that abstract objects are essences, and each of them is identical to its own existence. My reply to that would be that it fails to mark a distinction between a being’s existence and a being’s being identical to existence, itself. Again, we are supposing a modality of being entailed by the above definition of aseity. A being cannot be a necessary and sufficient condition for itself if it has a dependence relation upon an existence external to it, and nothing else could exist if there were there not some unifying existential ground whereupon the truthmaker for the propositional predication ‘exists’ has its basis.

    This does not solve the problem. When you say that certain entities exist “necessarily” in the mind of god, you are talking about logical necessity. It is thus incoherent to state that god instantiates the laws of logic out of logical necessity.

    No, logical laws are relationships between propositions. I’m talking about a metaphysical grounding for those relationships. That said, I probably should not have used the word ‘necessarily’ as I see how it can cause confusion. My point is that they exist essentially as divine concepts; either they are essential properties of the divine mind, or it is God’s nature to think those particular thoughts. At least this is what the theistic conceptual realist would say.

  31. #31 Iapetus
    September 26, 2008

    Crandaddy,

    God would have to be the existential ground in some way or other for everything that exists. Recall that I said above this would not only include contingent beings such as physical objects and minds, but also necessary objects such as necessary truths or truthmakers (e.g. logical laws).

    The first sentence is just an assertion. Even granting for the sake of argument the non-obvious and conceptually problematic contention that reality needs an “existential ground”, you have to supply evidence/arguments that it is your god, instead of e.g. the universe, who exists and provides this grounding. As it is, all you have done here is postulated his existence. To paraphrase Bertrand Russell: “The method of postulating what one needs has many advantages. These are the same advantages which a thief has compared to an honest man.”

    Regarding your two syllogisms and the subsequent paragraph, I do not follow what you are trying to say here. Is it meant to show that an aseic entity according to your definition must be eternal and logically necessary? Well, I have no real problem with that, although I could say something about the validity of some of your premises. However, you do not get your god through these deductions, since “B” might just as well be the universe. Nor do I see how it necessarily limits the number of aseic entities to only one.

    No, logical laws are relationships between propositions. I?m talking about a metaphysical grounding for those relationships.

    Why do you say “No” and then affirm what I stated in the post you responded to? Your metaphysical grounding is equivalent to me saying “God instantiates the laws of logic.”.

    My point is that they exist essentially as divine concepts; either they are essential properties of the divine mind, or it is God?s nature to think those particular thoughts.

    First of all, this does not address the problem of who or what defines the attributes of god if he is conceived as a (logically) necessary being.

    Second, any attempt to achieve an “ultimate grounding” is almost certainly doomed to failure. Unless you can provide evidence that your god actually exists and somehow provides this metaphysical grounding, all you have done here is arbitrarily terminated the potentially infinte chain of reasons by dogmatically declaring god the necessary ground of existence. I could just as well postulate that logical laws are essential, objective properties of our universe that need no further grounding (like Kant did with our allegedly a priori certain moral law). Or I postulate that the mind of the Christian god, far from being basic, is in reality an essential part of and grounded by the mind of Ao, the Overlord of all gods.

    Finally, if you declare it in “god’s nature” to think particular thoughts or if there exist “essential properties”, you have put yourself squarely back on the horns of the dilemma I outlined before.

  32. #32 Nemo
    September 27, 2008

    Invisible dragons, along with you and me and everything else in the physical universe, are contingent beings because it is possible to imagine a universe in which they do not exist.

    I have no trouble imagining a universe in which god does not exist; indeed, I believe this to be such a universe. So I fail to see how this point distinguishes god from invisible dragons.

  33. #33 lylebot
    October 5, 2008

    For that particular issue, see here for just one source off the top of my head. Last I checked, Jerry Fodor was not a theologian. ;)

    I read the essay by Fodor (presumably you’re talking about the one titled Is Science Biologically Possible?), and I didn’t get “epistemology isn’t possible without theism” out of it in the least. Fodor seems to be arguing that Darwinism has nothing to say about epistemology, and specifically arguing against Plantinga that Darwinism makes science impossible. It seems to me the only way you could get “epistemology isn’t possible without theism” is if you think that “Darwinism has nothing to say about epistemology” implies that “theism has everything to say about epistemology”, but obviously that implication doesn’t hold and Fodor isn’t making it.

  34. #34 lylebot
    October 5, 2008

    In fact, even while demolishing it, Fodor is far kinder to and respectful of Plantinga’s argument than I would’ve been…

  35. #35 aj
    October 9, 2008

    Science has given absolutely no proof that God doesn’t exist. I love science because it shows how wonderfull God’s creation is. Darwin didn’t know about DNA yet when it was discovered scientist didn’t ask so how was the first DNA formed – probably because they could sense the answer.
    The scientists that punts theories as facts should have sufficient knowledge with their great intelect to create one living cell right? I mean they claim this happened by accident in some pool or crystal or something. It doesn’t matter how many billions of years you want to throw into the equation, life doesn’t spring from nothing. I find the big bang theory much better hollywood sci-fi material than the bible.