Monday, August 27, 2012
An Argument from Contingency and Necessity
If you've ever observed lay discussions concerning the existence of God, you'll typically hear the theist state that God created the universe. A typical retort by the atheist is to reply, "Well, who created God?" Upon hearing this objection the theist usually says, "God is eternal, He isn't created." However, the conversation usually takes a sour turn when the atheist says, "The universe is eternal, therefore God is not necessary as an explanation." The problem with such a debate is that, more often than not, both are declaring that their object (God vs the Universe) is a brute fact that 'just exists'. Until this idea of necessity and contingency is drawn out, then both will be merely assuming necessity. This work is an attempt to give an account for why theists claim that God is the necessary absolute, rather than the universe.
One such argument a theist can make is the following I created:
1.) If something exists, then it is impossible for nothing to have existed.
2.) Something exists.
3.) If something has properties that could have been otherwise, then that thing could have failed to exist.
4.) Matter has properties that could have been otherwise.
5.) The universe is the totality of matter.
6.) Consequentially, the universe could have failed to exist and it is impossible for nothing to have existed.
7.) Something that has always existed can either decide to create the universe or it doesn't decide to create the universe.
8.) If that always-existent something doesn't decide to create the universe, then the universe will never be created.
9.) Only minds can decide to create things.
10.) The universe exists.
11.) Therefore, a mind has created the universe.
Premise (1) is true no matter how the problem is configured. It only requires that something exists, whatever that may be. And by 'nothing' here I mean 'nonbeing' or that which lacks any properties at all; complete negation of being. Some in the science community have tried to define nothing as the quantum vacuum. However, the quantum vacuum is 'something' that 'does' stuff; therefore premise (1) holds, since there is no third option. Moreover, appealing to the 'multiverse' theory doesn't get the objector a third option, for even if there was a world with no matter, there is still a world with matter. Since premise (1) is dealing with reality as a whole, multiverse or universe, then the disjunction holds. And since nothing (nonbeing) cannot have the potentiality to bring something into existence, then any objection to premise (1) seems doomed from the start.
Premise (2) is self-evident. I at least exist, therefore something exists.
The third premise seems dubious at first since it might be argued that the phrase "has properties that could have been otherwise" doesn't make something contingent. One could say that a ball can exist in various sizes, colors, textures, locations, weight, etc; and this only means that it can be manipulated, not that it is contingent. I argue, however, that this is precisely why something would be contingent. To say that it is impossible for a rock to lose its properties is to say that its properties are necessary, and couldn't have been otherwise.But if the properties of a 'thing' could have been otherwise, then it follows that the thing itself could have been otherwise, and possibly not exist. [I've since rejected this premise- see the revised version found in my blog post, Necessity Revisited]
Premise (4) is confirmed both in science and from logic. I define matter here very loosely, since I know some would reject that the particles that make up matter would be considered matter. Fair enough. However, I understand matter in this argument to mean that which is governed by the laws of nature, whether atom, proton, quark, etc. If I defined matter to simply mean 'atom' then premise (4) is easily shown true since the Standard Model confirms that atoms didn't always exist. But since I'm defining it more broadly, to include fundamental particles, then I have a little more work to do before this premise is shown reasonably true. So the question really becomes whether quarks (fundamental particles) can be necessary things. First, let's imagine what they would be like if they were eternal, or necessary, in this way. They would have the property of giving birth to the universe as we know it, not sooner, not later. But this seems absurd upon closer examination. Let's call this property, this potentiality, S. This property S, the potentiality for creation (Big Bang), could only exist as a potentiality forever. What property would make what S entails active? Ice, for example, has the potentiality to become water, but if this ice existed for an infinite amount of time prior, or even worse, necessarily, then it would never become water unless some condition changed. Why? A necessarily existing piece of ice, and all the conditions surrounding that state, would remained 'frozen' (pardon the pun), fixed, for the property 'below 0 degrees' would not change. If it's even possible that the 'ice' conditions change, then this ice wasn't a necessary thing to begin with. I relate this to property S and go even further to suggest that quarks (fundamental particles) either have or lack this potentiality. If they have this potentiality, and this pre-(Big) Bang state is necessary, then this potential state remains 'forever potential'; but I argue that a forever-potential thing isn't potential at all (that is the same as saying that one can win a race that is infinitely extended). A necessary seed has no potentiality to become a flower, neither does a necessarily existing 'pre-(Big) Bang" state have the potentiality to become a universe. Matter, then, is a poor candidate for necessity.
A naturalist, or materialist, is committed to premise (5). The theist, too, would agree with this premise, but the main difference between the materialist and theist (dualist) is that the materialist defines reality as the universe, whereas the theist (dualist) defines the universe as a part of reality, not the entirety. It would indeed be odd for the materialist to agree that there is a nonphysical reality that is necessarily the cause of the universe. They might suggest that the laws of nature are nonphysical, necessary, entities that gave rise to the physical universe. However, laws don't stand in causal relations to anything, nor can they create things. And it would be mightily convenient to suggest that these laws described that which would later be, almost as if it 'knew' the universe was coming.
Premise (6) follows from premises 1-5 and presents the reader with the problem of necessity, this odd predicament. The totality of matter and energy, the universe, could have failed to exist; however, 'something' exists regardless. This always-existing something, by definition, is necessary. We know that the universe isn't self explanatory and so cannot be the cause of itself. The following premises (7-11) explain this strange conjunction.
It may be argued that premise (7) begs the question in favor of God, and assumes that which it has yet to demonstrate. However, 'decide' doesn't beg the question because I've presented its negation to form an absolute dichotomy. All of reality can be grouped into things that decide or things that do not decide. The dichotomy 'red' and 'not red' describes all of reality, even if 99.9% of reality would fit in the non-red category. Likewise, whatever created the universe either decided to create the universe or it didn't. Since tautologies cannot be false, then premise (7) is necessarily true.
If, as premise (8) suggests, this always-existent (necessary) thing did not decide to create the universe, then we wouldn't have a universe. This has support from premise (3), for if a thing exists necessarily then it's properties have been always-existent. The property of potentiality, if existent from infinity's past, is nothing more than an incoherent illusion. Nor could this potentiality be encoded with a detonator clock, such that the property essentially says "At time t, explode into the universe." However, unless one wants to believe that the universe can beg the question, that is, assume that which doesn't yet exist, then this objection is futile.
Premise (9) presents us with the only possible way to overcome this 'necessity/potentiality' difficulty. A mind is the only thing that can satisfy the 'decide' category. Without appealing to a transcendent mind at this point, consider an example from everyday experience. Science, as you know, can predict with high accuracy, almost with certainty, that a ball rolling down a hill will hit a wall erected at the bottom. However, scientists cannot say that a man running down a hill will hit the wall with any certainty at all. "It all depends", says the scientist, "whether the man decides to run into the wall, because it's possible that he [decides] to avoid it." Now it's obvious that by this point 'mind' cannot mean a physical brain (since dualists reject that mind equals brain). Therefore, this mind has existed eternally 'before' the universe (in a logical sense). Unlike matter, which cannot overcome the problem of eternal potentiality, a mind can exist in a state eternally while deciding to create something that is contingent. Of course, this requires that the mind have a will that is free, for determination presupposes that which governs actions, and that which is governed 'to be' is contingent. The only way to object to premise (9), besides presupposing materialism, is to suggest that it's impossible for a mind to stand in a causal relationship with the universe such that it creates it. However, this is to understand a mind through human limitations. I argue that the word 'potentiality' ought to be replaced with 'possibility' in terms of minds. If, for example, you place a human being in a room with a few objects, then this human has the possibility of doing several things with those objects; he can 'decide' (will) to manipulate the room as he sees fit. But this human can only do things that are feasible for him. Although the human can will that a ball come into existence, he cannot do so because the human himself is under the physical laws, the physical realm of existence. However, a transcendent mind wouldn't be under such physical jurisdiction, and so the possibility of willing the creation of a physical world remains coherent. Until the materialist can demonstrate that it is impossible for a mind with no physical limitations to create a physical thing, then premise (9) is true since there is no third option in the decide/not decide dichotomy.
Since premise (10) is self-evident, and presupposed by the materialist, then the conclusion, that a mind has created the universe, logically follows from the previous premises of the argument. But one thing remains to be explained, and that is whether this can be called a theistic argument, rather than a mere demonstration that a mind exists outside of the universe. God, although a mind, is much more than that. I would have argued further by making 'mind' into 'God' in the argument, but that would have made the argument too lengthy. But the properties that this mind would have would take us to deism, and since deism isn't atheism, then it serves to refute anti-theism . The traditional properties of God (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternality) could be derived logically from each other, since they entail each other in some way. Moreover, since minds have privileged access to their thoughts, such that others cannot know the information unless the one in question reveals it, then revelation is that much more possible since it's likely that a mind would have an opinion on ethics and conduct. But this would go beyond what is necessary to refute atheism, and since my project was merely to demonstrate that the theist possesses the true account for necessity, then there is no need to deal with revelation. Thanks to Ockham's razor, one can confidently defend the claim that a god exists, and consequently that atheism (naturalism) is false.