Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Necessity Concluded

     This blog is the final segment of a 3 part series. In the blog An Argument from Contingency and Necessity, I began formulating an argument for God’s existence based on Leibniz’s argument. In that blog I essentially argued that if something exists then ‘nothing’ could not have ever existed. Because of this fact, I argued, something necessary must exist. However, in the blog Necessity Revisited, I criticized some of the decisions I took with regard to my original formulation of the argument.  After some back and forth, I offered the revised argument at the end with some descriptions preceding it. This blog will present this revised argument and go into more detail with each of its premises. Since the argument is long, possessing a total of 3 conclusions within it (2 minor, 1 final), I’ll break it up into three parts. 


1.) If something exists, then it is impossible for nothing to have ever existed.
2.) If it is impossible for nothing to have ever existed, then there exists something that is necessary in its existence.
3.) Something exists.
4.) Consequently, something is necessary in its existence.

     Premise (1) shouldn’t be too controversial so long as terms are properly defined. By ‘nothing’ I mean the complete negation of being, no properties. With this in mind, I base this premise on the metaphysical axiom, Ex nihilo nihil fit, or “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” Those who object to this axiom either inevitably argue in favor of it by presenting nothing as ‘something’ with properties, or reject it simply because of some epistemological barrier (e.g. naturalistic scientism). Both of these rejections fail to understand that ‘nothing’ and ‘something’ are contradictories as is demonstrated in the following sentence: Nothing can cause something. The property ‘causes’ contradicts the subject ‘nothing’. This is akin to saying, “The married bachelor got a divorce”; it doesn’t mean anything. Since there is no way to object to this first premise without contradicting yourself in the process, I’ll simply move on.

     Premise (2) expresses the implications of ex nihilo nihil fit. The subsequent in the conditional doesn’t seem to suffer from any powerful defeaters. One could contest by saying that necessity doesn’t follow since a contingent ‘something’ is just as likely to exist. However, necessity means that it exists in all possible worlds and could not have failed to exist. Contingent things, however, can fail to exist since their existence is dependent on factors ‘outside’ itself. Claiming that a contingent thing ‘just exists’ is the same as saying that there exists a necessarily contingent thing, which is a contradiction in terms.  Contingency points beyond itself and so a state of nonbeing ‘prior’ to this makes no sense. This will be defended later in the argument as well.

     I anticipate that only solipsists would offer doubt concerning premise (3). However, even solipsists acknowledge that something exists, namely themselves. This is all that premise (3) requires, that something, whether people, mountains, water, a single atom, exists. Since it’s arguably self-evident that something exists, then the conclusion found in premise (4) logically follows.  This conclusion isn’t too controversial, for even naturalists typically agree that something necessary exists. What follows will test this ‘necessary’ something against the physical world.


5.) If the universe is necessary, then its properties could not have been otherwise.
6.) Potentiality presupposes that something's properties could have been otherwise.
7.) The universe has potentiality.
8.) Therefore, the universe is contingent.

     Since it was established that something necessary exists, it’s now the goal of the argument to test the identity of this necessary thing against the physical world. Premise (5) uses ‘universe’ very broadly to mean all (the totality) of space, time, matter, and energy. The subsequent merely presents what necessity entails. Necessity, again, is a property which makes the thing in question exist in all possible worlds; it could not have failed to exist.  I argue, however, that this freezes the essential properties of a thing. If a particular property could have been otherwise, then there is a possible world in which the entire ‘thing’ itself is different, and hence not necessary. This will be developed in the next premise.

     Premise (6) might be where this entire argument receives the most traffic. Since in many circles potentiality and possibility are seen as the same thing, I have to define how I’m using this term. Potentiality expresses an inner movement determined by some previous state of affairs that works for one end. A perfect example of this is a sunflower seed. Of course, through intense genetic manipulation, this sunflower seed is a ‘possible’ tulip, but it certainly lacks the potentiality to do this. The sunflower seed has only one end goal, that of a sunflower. Even if the proper external conditions are not met to make this happen, the sunflower seed still has this inner movement, this essence, within it. I argue, however, that a sunflower seed is not the same as a sunflower, because a seed lacks properties that would make it a flower. Because of this, I argue, potentiality is a sign of contingency. However, what if the sunflower seed exists necessarily such that it couldn’t fail to exist and its properties couldn’t have been otherwise? Would it make sense to say that this seed was a potential sunflower? I don’t think so, for then there is a possible world in which the sunflower seed fails to exist (i.e. seeds fall out of existence when they become a flower; there is no ‘seed’ left). Perhaps one might object and say that I’m using a simple example and stretching it to fit my conclusion. But consider another example, which doesn’t include life: Imagine a pond that has existed in a frozen state from eternity. The property ‘ice’ presupposes the property ‘is below 0 degrees’. Now if this pond existed in this state necessarily, then would it make sense to suggest that this ice is potentially water? No, otherwise it wouldn’t be necessarily frozen. Since potentiality seems to contradict necessity, and something is either contingent or necessary, then whatever is potential is contingent.

     As was mentioned above, the word ‘universe’ is defined very broadly to include the totality of space, time, matter, and energy. Now the only way to object to premise (7) is to offer reasons why the universe is necessary, rather than contingent. But what would a necessary universe look like? I appeal to the ‘sunflower seed’ and ‘frozen pond’ examples listed above. Similar to those examples, it would mean that the universe’s properties couldn’t have been otherwise. Consequently, then, it would forbid the universe having the property of potentiality. But we know, from various scenarios, that the universe had a prior state in which the properties we witness currently didn’t exist. According to Big Bang cosmology, even space, time, and matter had a definite starting point. One could argue that, given naturalism, this pre-Big Bang state, by definition, possessed properties that the post-bang state didn’t have. Therefore, one can conclude that the universe had potentiality; it ‘became’ something else by virtue of adding essential properties. One can even observe atoms and quarks and conclude the same thing. Since matter is composed of atoms, and atoms could be otherwise (see the periodic table), and the universe is the totality of matter, then one can conclude that the universe is contingent as premise (8) states. But if the universe is contingent, then we know it isn’t the identity of this ‘necessary thing’.


9.) This necessarily-existing thing either decided to create the universe or it didn't decide to create the universe.
10.) If this necessarily-existing thing didn't decide to create the universe then the universe would never exist.
11.) Only minds can decide.
12.) The universe exists.
13.) Therefore, a mind decided to create the universe.

     Premise (9) will most likely be charged with begging the question. One might say, “You would only believe in this premise if you already believed in God.” However, I offered a tautology in the form of an absolute dichotomy. The only way premise (9) can be false is if one could present a third alternative. But as it stands, all of reality can fit into these two categories, albeit most of reality will fit in the ‘non decide’ category. Since there are both alternatives listed in this premise then one cannot say I’ve begged the question. When someone says “true” to premise (9), he is committed to the truth of the dichotomy, not one individual half of the disjunction.

     Premise (10) mirrors the claim that the universe, its properties, cannot come from nothing.  This means that this necessary ‘thing’ stands in some high causal relationship with the universe.  If the universe is the totality of space, time, matter, and energy, then that which creates these things cannot possess any of them. These physical properties entail each other such that if one were taken out the rest would follow. So if this always-existent ‘thing’ didn’t decide to create the universe, then the casual connection between itself and the nonexistent universe remains highly questionable. Again, this necessary absolute cannot have potentiality, an inner movement, to bring about the existence of the universe without already possessing the properties in question. This premise, then, seems more plausibly true than its negation.

     But then how did this always-existent ‘thing’ create the universe? Premise (11) answers this. The fact that only minds can decide isn’t controversial; what is controversial, however, is (a) how this mind created the universe, and (b) how this mind did so without having potentiality. With regard to (a), consider our own minds. The imagination is a powerful force in forming concepts and taking properties from our ‘knowledge pool’ and putting them together. Innovation would be nonexistent without the imagination. But we know from experience that if we ‘conceptualize’ a red ball in our minds, and will that concept to form outside of us in the physical world, it won’t do so. No matter how earnestly we conceptualize, our minds simply have no control over the forces of nature. Why? For one, we are under the jurisdiction of the physical world. There are statutes in place that govern nature, and those under the law cannot change the law. However, with a mind that is not physical in any way, there would be no such jurisdiction, for what ‘barrier’ could exist that would prevent complete volition? The atheist seems to be stuck with saying that since we cannot will things into physical existence that therefore this mind cannot either. Again, inevitably their explanation will come to this concept of physical jurisdiction, but this wouldn’t apply to a mind not under such jurisdiction. Perhaps the atheist might argue that one needs to have a concept of something before creativity can be achieved.  So how can such a mind have any concepts of the physical world such that it can create it? Where did this mind acquire the knowledge of these properties if they never existed? I don’t think it’s hard, however, for this being, this necessary absolute, to have perfect knowledge of ‘being’ and then with imagination negate and manipulate that which it knows to form what we would call ‘physical’ entities.

     With regard to (b), the question of how this mind can ‘will’ anything without having the potentiality to do so might appear problematic. I clearly stated, and it’s important for this argument to work, that ‘potentiality’ is a sign of contingency. But surely ‘thinking’ and ‘willing’ entail potentiality, an inner movement, right?  I think this question is wrongheaded for two reasons. First, it might presuppose a ‘temporal’, linear, flow of thinking that we are accustomed to. Our thoughts certainly ‘take time’ to think, and could, if one wished, be measured in seconds. However, does this mean that non-temporal thinking is impossible? No. Consider my eternally frozen pond example again. From eternity’s past the ice and below 0 degree temperature existed parallel to each other, one not coming before or after the other. However, even in eternity one has logical priority over the other. In this case, although existing temporally the same, the below 0 degree temperature exists logically prior to the ice, for the temperature causes the ice and not ice the temperature. Likewise, this mind’s thoughts would all occur at the same time, but they would have logical order. But how does this provide an answer to the ‘potentiality’ problem? If you remember, potentiality was more narrowly defined than possibility; it entails an inner movement for a specific end goal. A sunflower seed has the potentiality to become a sunflower, not a potato. I hesitate to limit potentiality to a ‘single’ end goal, but the more  likely end goals that exist, the less ‘potential’ the thing is. With a ‘free’ mind, however, there are almost an infinite amount of possible routes it can take. This mind didn’t have to create anything even if it has the ‘potential’ to create. This is why I prefer the term ‘possible’ with regard to this mind, since the amount of possible ends are so numerous. To say this mind had the ‘potential’ to create the universe suggests to me that a ‘universe essence’ existed along with this mind, such that its coming into existence was inevitable. One may wish to argue that if this mind created something, that the introduction of accidental or relational properties would mean that this mind ‘could have been otherwise’. However, premise (6) never precluded something gaining accidental properties, for if these accidental properties were to fall, the thing in question would still be necessary while possessing its essential properties. With this understood, the problem of ‘potentiality’ seems to dissolve.

     I don’t imagine that anyone would object to premise (12). The totality of space, time, matter, and energy, exists. Since only solipsists may wish to contest this, I will simply ignore any robust argument against solipsism. All I could do is argue that their epistemology is flawed and, hence, their ontology as well. However one wishes to define ‘exists’ in this premise wouldn’t affect the larger point being made. From this it follows that a mind has indeed created the universe and happens to be the necessary absolute this argument was trying to discover the whole time. The only problem with the conclusion might be that it doesn’t say ‘God’. However, God is implied for the following reason: If the properties of this mind were spelled out then one would get monotheism. Simply put, the creator of space, time, matter, and energy, must transcend those properties, otherwise it didn’t create them. This would give us a spaceless, timeless, immaterial mind.  Furthermore, this mind would be extremely powerful in order to will into existence the known world (and holding all ‘being’ in its power), and incredibly intelligent for possessing the conceptual blueprints, as well as the direct and pure knowledge of those concepts. With the creation of the physical world, this being would experience every moment, every object, immediately and purely, such that it can be said to be ‘everywhere’ in the conscious sense. And since we aren’t justified by multiplying the causes (as well as for ontological reasons), we can only conclude a single mind. Therefore, this argument establishes monotheism.

    This argument is indeed valid and, as I’ve argued, sound. One could say, as some atheists do in debates, that as a Christian I have to prove that ‘my’ God exists, not just a generic god. Surely, this argument doesn’t demonstrate that this mind is good; one might as well conclude the malevolence of this being. However, if I were to argue for this being’s goodness then this argument would be way too long. Another argument would have to be offered for that. But I like to see the conclusion of this argument as a ‘breather’ for a greater case for a religious-specific god, my God. It would make no sense to argue for God’s goodness if the atheist will merely reject the metaphysical possibility of this being’s main properties. With this argument in place, the atheist would have to stick to the topic of goodness, instead of accusing me of arbitrarily concocting God’s properties. Such a cumulative structure keeps the discussion orderly. 

     The additional beauty of this argument is that it also directly refutes naturalism, which is the atheist’s common (positive) worldview for their rejection of God. The physical, natural, world is not all there is, and so the naturalist is left to the drawing board. This argument also lends support for substance dualism in philosophy of mind. No longer can naturalists reject the notion of ‘spirit’ without first refuting this argument. So at the end of the day I find this argument powerful. Whether this convinces the atheist is more a topic for existential/psychological philosophy. No logical conclusion can serve as an existential shift of mood. If only it were that easy!

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