Monday, September 3, 2012

Necessity Revisited


   I've had considerable time to reflect on my last post (An Argument from Contingency and Necessity) and decided that it's poor for two reasons: (1) The argument is too lengthy, and (2) the third premise is dubious and vague. My aim in this post is to clarify, review, and amend my argument based on the criticisms I've received from my own reflections and those from a friend. I've listed the original argument, my thoughts and clarifications, and the new revised argument. I will keep my last blog post up so that one can examine why I made certain changes. The whole point of intellectual blogging is to receive objections that will yield greater knowledge and precision. That is precisely what I wish to offer in this revision.
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Original Argument:

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.

Reflections on the Original Argument

   I still hold to the truth of premises 1 and 2 of the original argument. Premise 1 is supported by the metaphysical truth that something cannot come from nothing. It certainly seems to be the case that 'something' and 'nothing' (properly defined) are contradictories. Since nothing is that which has no properties, is the complete negation of 'being' (nonbeing), then it remains questionable how it could have the potentiality to cause anything. But as premise 1 of the original argument affirms, if something exists then it is impossible for nothing to have existed. The conclusion of premises 1 and 2 establishes that something necessary must exist.

    Premise 3 of the original argument was the unintended byproduct of my failure to establish and spell out what is to be necessary. The very content of premise 3 was dubious and allowed the atheist to use it against the theist's conclusion. For example, one could argue, since it isn't self-evident, that any one of this god's properties 'could have been otherwise' in a possible sense, either in intensity or existence. The very fact that this argument doesn't establish this being's goodness means that a good, evil, or indifferent god could exist, in which case his properties could have been otherwise. Moreover, this premise is questionable because it doesn't explain whether it applies to 'necessary' or 'accidental' properties of a thing. Surely a square must necessarily possess four equal sides, but whether it is being thought of by President Obama or Charles Darwin is accidental, unessential, to it. Now the atheist 'could' argue that this god's accidental properties, by definition, could have been otherwise (nonexistent) and, with my third premise, conclude that this god is contingent.

   Premise 3 should be completely scrapped. Properties that could have been otherwise don't demonstrate whether something exists necessarily or contingently, but whether it has accidental properties. Instead, the argument should continue with establishing the identity of this necessary absolute. If there exists an absolute dichotomy between necessary things and contingent things, then showing that something isn't necessary means that it is contingent by definition. Hence, the argument should proceed to establish whether the universe can have the property of necessity in the first place. Here, like the original argument, one would show an incompatibility between one property of the universe and necessity.

   Since necessity entails that the properties of a thing could not have been otherwise, then one can begin to fathom what a necessary universe would look like. If the naturalist believes that the universe exists necessarily, then they would have to maintain that some physical state of affairs existed prior to the Big Bang (some sort of weak energy state). The problem, however, is that this pre-Big Bang state would have properties that couldn't have been otherwise, because it would be necessary. An 'inner movement' in its essence, it's potentiality, to acquire properties such that it could form the Big Bang would be an illusion. I think my necessarily existing frozen pond example in my original argument (found in the last blog) captured this beautifully. A frozen pond that exists necessarily, not only exists eternally (it couldn't have failed to exist), but it also exists in every possible world. It would be odd to suggest that this frozen pond had the potentiality to become water, for the conditions surrounding the frozen pond couldn't have been otherwise (i.e. "is below 0 degrees"). Likewise, a necessary pre-Big Bang universe (state) wouldn't have the potentiality to acquire new properties that would bring about the Big Bang event. It seems, therefore, that the universe is contingent; it acquires it's existence from an outside source.

     I stand by premise 7, that this always-existent thing (the necessary absolute) either decided to create the universe or it didn't decide to create the universe. Absolute dichotomies cannot beg the question, since both alternatives are being presented. All of reality can be reduced into absolute dichotomies, even if 99.9% of reality will fit the negative term. If this always-existent thing didn't decide to create the universe, then I argue the universe wouldn't have come into being, for then the universe would be left to its own efforts to come into being, and we already established that this is problematic. But I argue that since the universe exists, then this always-existent 'thing' decided to create the universe. However, this entails that a mind brought the universe into existence, since the only thing to satisfy the 'decide' category is a mind. One might object and say that it's possible that this mind didn't decide to create the universe, but that nonetheless, through some unintended glitch, the 'power' this mind had brought about the universe. However, since this objection presupposes that a mind exists, it becomes weak for the atheist to use. But an answer can be given as to why this objection fails. First, to suggest that this mind wouldn't be aware that it's power was be used up seems odd, especially given that it takes conceptual effort (not strain) to provide the blueprint for creation. Moreover, it seems to presuppose a physical brain that can either get sleepy, forgetful, etc. A transcendent mind, by definition, isn't physical, so no physical state of affairs (chemical imbalance) could interfere with the cognitive faculties of this mind. Finally, the theist could offer other arguments which would establish the perfection of such a mind, perhaps using perfect being theology. Thus, the objection loses force.
 
    All that remains for the revised argument is to explain the properties of this mind such that a god concept could be formed. I think it follows that this mind, in order to be the author and creator of the physical world, must himself transcend the physical world. Therefore, this mind is spirit (nonphysical). This nonphysical mind would possess unfathomable power in its will to bring about the existence of physical properties, stand in ontological priority to any abstract objects (like mathematical objects), since its necessity preserves all of contingent 'being'. Moreover, this nonphysical mind must possess perfect knowledge, for concepts can't exist independently of this necessary absolute. Consequently, all propositions depicting 'what is' would be known by this mind. Furthermore, this transcendent mind exists everywhere in the physical world since a transcendent mind has no shape or size that would require it to traverse to one point or another. This mind would experience reality objectively, as it is, and hence can 'see' everything at once. Finally, given that this being has the property of necessity, this entails that it is eternal and consequently not in time. Therefore, this argument concludes that a spaceless, timeless, immaterial mind, who possess omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, created the universe, and furthermore, exists as the necessary absolute that grounds all being. Therefore, a god exists.

   The only other remaining projects for the Christian theist to undertake is an argument demonstrating this god's omnibenevolence (goodness) and personal revelation through Jesus Christ. But that will have to exist as a separate argument.

   The Argument Restated:

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.
5.) If the universe was 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.
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.

    The argument is still much too lengthy. I'm sure steps could be taken to make it much shorter. Perhaps several of the premises should serve as hidden premises, rather than explicit in the argument. However, since there are a total of three small arguments within the whole argument (Premises 1-4, 5-8, 9-13), condensing looks to be difficult. Despite this small annoyance, I'm confident that it's a good argument. I will leave this blog post up in order that this argument receives criticism. With this criticism, I plan on offering the argument one last time and listing and answering all relevant objections.

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