bookmark_borderHinman’s ABEAN Argument – Part 3: More Objections

ABEAN Contains Twelve Statements
Although I cannot provide a comprehensive critique of Hinman’s ABEAN argument in just two blog posts (of reasonable length),  I can at least briefly touch on each of the dozen statements in that argument.
[NOTE: ABEAN is an acronym that refers to the claim that “some Aspect of Being is Eternal And Necessary”.]
The statements in ABEAN are numbered (1) through (11), but there is an additional statement that Hinman should have made, but that he did not make clearly and explicitly.  There is a little bit of text in brackets following premise (4):
[=GOB]
There is a similar notation following premise (6):
[=SON]
The notation following premise (6) merely indicates an acronym that will be used as shorthand for the phrase “a Sense Of the Numinous”, a term that was already being used in premise (6).  So, the notation following (6) does not assert anything or add anything to (6).
However, the notation following premise (4) asserts a substantive claim, which Hinman ought to have spelled out as a separate premise:
(A) The Ground of Being is identical with any aspect of being that is eternal and necessary.
The notation “[=GOB]” does NOT merely specify an acronym for a term already present in the argument; rather, it introduces a new and additional concept into the argument, a concept that is very unclear.  Since premise (A) includes at least three unclear terms (“The Ground of Being”, “any aspect of being that is…”, and  “eternal”), I judge this premise to be VERY unclear.
 
The ABEAN Argument is VERY UNCLEAR
The main problem with the ABEAN argument is that it is UNCLEAR.  This is the same problem that I encountered repeatedly in my analysis and evaluation of Norman Geisler’s case for God in his book When Skeptics Ask.  The problem is not so much that ABEAN uses false premises or invalid inferences.  The problem is that nearly every claim in the argument is unclear, making it nearly impossible to rationally evaluate the argument.
In my view, ten out of the twelve statements that make up ABEAN are VERY UNCLEAR.  Only one statement in ABEAN is clear, and there is one statement that is somewhat unclear (but less than very unclear).  So, in my view, more than 80% of the statements in ABEAN are VERY UNCLEAR, and less than 10% of the statements in ABEAN are clear (only 1 statement out of 12).  Given the prevalence of VERY UNCLEAR statements, it is reasonable to characterize the whole argument as being VERY UNCLEAR, and thus for all practical intents and purposes it is impossible to rationally evaluate ABEAN.  As it stands, ABEAN is little more than a heap of words without much intellectual or philosophical significance.
If Mr. Hinman were to provide clear definitions for the many problematic words and phrases in his ABEAN argument, then it would be possible to rationally evaluate this argument, but I suspect that if he could have provided such definitions then he would have done so already.  So, I’m doubtful that he will be providing clear definitions for all of the many problematic words and phrases in ABEAN.
Here is my view of the general unclarity of Hinman’s ABEAN argument (click on image below for a better view of the chart):
ABEAN CLARITY TABLE
 
 
 
 
 
The unclarity that I based this chart on is the unclarity of the meaning of several problematic words and phrases:

  • naturalistic phenomena
  • temporal
  • some aspect of being
  • eternal
  • the Ground of Being
  • being itself
  • a sense of the numinous
  • God (Hinman has an idiosyncratic understanding of this word)
  • the transcendental signified
  • universal truth at the top of the metaphysical hierarchy
  • believing in… (Hinman has an idiosyncratic understanding of this phrase)

The terms “necessary” and “contingent” are also problematic words, but Hinman provides fairly clear definitions of these two words, which in turn made it possible for me to evaluate the inference from premises (1) and (4) to premise (5) as being an INVALID inference (see Part 2 of this series).  The one time that Hinman provides clear definitions, makes it clear that ABEAN is a bad argument.  This is why, I suspect, that Geisler and Hinman are so unclear and fuzzy-headed when they argue for God.  When they think and reason clearly, their arguments for God fall apart.
I judged premises (1), (2), (4), (A), (5), (7), (8), (9), (10), and (11) to be VERY UNCLEAR because they each contain at least two different unclear words or phrases, which Hinman failed to adequately define or explain.
I judged premise (6) to be UNCLEAR, but not to be VERY UNCLEAR, because of the use of the phrase “a sense of the numinous” in that premise.  Given the subjective nature of that concept, it would be difficult for anyone to provide a clear definition of that phrase, and Hinman did make a brief attempt to provide some clarification of this term, but his attempt was inadequate in my judgment.  As it stands, this phrase is too vague to allow one to make a rational evaluation of the truth or falsehood of premises (7) or (8) with any degree of confidence.
 
How Many Possible Interpretations are there of ABEAN?
The easiest sort of unclarity to fix is ambiguity.  There are eight different unclear words or phrases used in ABEAN. (NOTE: some of the unclear words and phrases in the list above are not used in the ABEAN argument, but are used in definitions of terms.)  Most of these unclear words or phrases have MANY different possible meanings, not just two.  So, most of these unclear words or phrases have a more serious problem than that of being ambiguous between two alternative meanings.
But, for the sake of illustration, let’s assume that all eight unclear words or phrases each have only two alternative meanings.  Let’s also assume that these words or phrases are consistently used with the same meaning in all premises where they occur.  How many different possible interpretations of ABEAN would there be, based on those assumptions?  There would be 2 to the 8th power different interpretations of ABEAN:
2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 =  4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 16 x 16 = 256 Different Possible Interpretations
There are well over two hundred different possible interpretations of ABEAN if the unclear words and phrases in the argument each have only two possible meanings.  But most of the unclear words and phrases have a more serious problem of unclarity than this, so it would not be unreasonable to estimate that there is an average of three different possible meanings for each of the unclear words and phrases.  How many possible interpretations of ABEAN would there be on that assumption?  There would be 3 to the 8th power different interpretations of ABEAN:
3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 =  9 x 9 x 9 x 9 =  81 x 81 = 6,561 Different Possible Interpretations
Given these two estimates of the number of different possible interpretations of ABEAN, it is reasonable to conclude that it is very likely that there are more than 200 but less than 7,000 different possible interpretations of ABEAN.   So, I would need at least 200 blog posts to adequately evaluate all of the various possible interpretations of ABEAN.  Not gonna happen.  Wouldn’t be prudent.  I have better things to do with my time.
 
One Premise in ABEAN is OK
I’m OK with premise (3):
3. Something did not come from nothing.
The wording and clarity could be slightly improved:
3a. It is NOT the case that something came from nothing.
I accept this premise as true, although I’m not entirely certain that it is true.  I think it is based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and I’m inclined to accept that principle (i.e. “Every event has an explanation.”)
 
A Couple of Other Problems with ABEAN
I have many objections and concerns about ABEAN in addition to the basic problem of unclear words and phrases.   But I will just mention two of those problems here.  One objection concerns the statement that Hinman failed to make clearly and explicitly:
(A) The Ground of Being is identical with any aspect of being that is eternal and necessary.
Premise (4) asserts that “Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.”  The word “some” is ambiguous here, just like the word “something” as used by Aquinas and by Geisler in their arguments for God.  What premise (4) actually means is this:
4a.  Some aspect or aspects of being are eternal and necessary.
There is no reason or justification given for limiting the relevant aspects to just ONE aspect.  So, we have, yet again, an ambiguity in quantification that leads to confusion and illogical inferences.  If there are many aspects of being, and if more than one aspect of being is eternal and necessary, then that casts doubt on premise (A).  If there are multiple aspects of being that are eternal and necessary, then it is doubtful that we ought to identify “the Ground of Being” with that collection of aspects.
This is particularly the case if an “aspect” of being is an individual thing or event.  The concept of an “aspect of being” is VERY UNCLEAR, so it is not at all obvious that we can rule out the possibility that individual things or events could count as aspects of being.  Clearly, Mr. Hinman would NOT accept the idea that “the Ground of Being” is composed of various individual things or events (that would lead us in the direction of Polytheism or Pantheism), so the identification of “the Ground of Being” with “some aspect or aspects of being” might well turn out to be an incoherent claim, a claim that contradicts the implications of Hinman’s concept of “the Ground of Being”.
This is one more example that illustrates the need for clear definitions of problematic words and phrases such as “an aspect of being” and “the Ground of Being”.  Without such definitions, we may well be stumbling over various logical errors and incoherent claims.
I also have a problem with premise (9):
9. GOB = God.
First of all, this premise needs to be spelled out in a clear sentence of English:
9a. The Ground of Being is identical with God.
Although Hinman fails to provide a clear definition of “the Ground of Being” or of the word “eternal”, I strongly suspect that by “eternal” he means “outside of time”, and it is clear that Hinman believes “the Ground of Being” to be “eternal”.  Given these assumptions, it follows that “the Ground of Being” cannot change.
But God is a person, or at least a being with personal characteristics like “can think”, “can communicate”, “can make choices”, and “can perform actions”.  But only a being that can change can have such personal characteristics.  Therefore, given the assumption that “the Ground of Being” is something that is “outside of time” it follows that “the Ground of Being” is NOT identical with God.  Premise (9) appears to be false.
So, premise (A) might well, for all we know, be an incoherent statement, and premise (9) appears to be false.

bookmark_borderHinman’s Two Ways – Part 1: Outline of Argument #1

Joe Hinman wants me to set aside Mr. Geisler’s pathetic case for God, and to give serious consideration to his case for God, which includes at least two arguments:
Argument 1: an Aspect of Being is Eternal And Necessary (ABEAN),
and
Argument 2: Religious Experience Meets Epistemic Criteria (REMEC).
In this first post, I will only get started with Hinman’s first argument, attempting to clarify the basic structure of that argument.
Here is an excerpt from Hinman’s initial post on this subject:
==============================
Rather than proving the existence of God I argue for the goal of providing a warrant for belief. A popular saying is often heard on the net: proof is for mathematics and whisky,
GOB = Ground of Being
SON – Sense of numinous [I corrected the spelling of this phrase]
[…]
Argument I: from Eternal Necessary aspect of being
1.All naturalistic phenomena is contingent and temporal
2. Some aspect of being must be eternal and necessary unless we are willing to accept existence ex nihilo
3. In contrast to Human infinitude the GOB evokes sense of the numinous
4. whatever evokes the SON is a valid object of worship, thus we are warranted in equating Gob with God
5, Belief is warranted from 2 and 4.
===========================
MY INITIAL RESTATEMENT OF THE FIRST ARGUMENT
Hinman follows Tillich in objecting to the statement that “God exists”  or that “God is a being”.  Nevertheless, Hinman insists that the claim “There is no God” is false or mistaken, and he affirms that “God is real”.  I’m skeptical about whether this position is logically coherent, but for now I will not put words into Hinman’s mouth; I will NOT re-state his argument as having the traditional conclusion that “God exists”.
I will, however, restate his argument, in an attempt to make it a bit more clear:
Hinman’s ABEAN Argument

1. All natural phenomena are contingent and temporal.

2. IF all natural phenomena are contingent and temporal, THEN some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

THEREFORE:

3. Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

4. IF some aspect of being is eternal and necessary, THEN there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real.

5. IF there is good reason to believe that the Ground of Being is real, THEN there is good reason to believe that God is real.

THEREFORE:

6. There is good reason to believe that God is real.

Note that the IF/THEN statements in premises (4) and (5) might not be intended as logical implications, since they represent the epistemic notion of warrant or “a good reason to believe” a claim.
It MIGHT be the case that Hinman views “an eternal and necessary aspect of being” as logically or conceptually equivalent to “the Ground of Being”, in which case we could drop the phrase “there is good reason to believe that…” and treat (4) as a straightforward logical implication.  It MIGHT be the case that Hinman views “the Ground of Being” as logically or conceptually equivalent to “God”, in which case we could take the IF/THEN statement in premise (5) to be a logical implication.  [JOE: Please comment on the nature of the logical or epistemic relationships between antecedents and consequents in these two premises.  I need you to clearly distinguish the claims that have a “warrant” relationship from the claims that have a straightforward logical implication relationship.]
I believe, however, that the IF/THEN statement in premise (2) is intended as a logical implication, as indicated by the word “must” in Hinman’s original wording of that premise.
I have simplified and generalized Hinman’s argument a bit, by making the connection between GOB and GOD more direct with premise (5). Hinman is free, of course, to use his idea about “the Sense of the Numinous” as a primary justification for premise (5), but this also gives him some wiggle room, in case that justification fails or is insufficient by itself.  He might be able to come up with other ways of justifying premise (5).
I dropped the qualification “unless we are willing to accept existence ex nihilo” from premise (2), because I assume that Hinman has some sort of reason or argument for rejecting that option, and that reason or argument could then be understood as part of the justification for the unqualified version of premise (2).
=========================
JOE:  Is my re-statement of your first argument OK, or would you like to make some changes to it?
=======================
UPDATED again on 6/1/17 (change is in blue font)
UPDATE on 5/30/17
Based on feedback from Joe Hinman, I’m revising my statement of his argument:
Hinman’s ABEAN Argument – Rev.A

1. All natural phenomena are contingent and temporal.

2. IF all natural phenomena are contingent and temporal, THEN some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

THEREFORE:

3. Some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

4A. IF some aspect of being is eternal and necessary, THEN the Ground of Being is real.

5A. IF the Ground of Being is real, THEN God is real.

THEREFORE:

6A. God is real.

Hinman’s Sub-Argument for Premise (2):

7. IF all natural phenomena are contingent and temporal, THEN either (a) some aspect of being is eternal and necessary or (b) there is an infinite regress of contingent and temporal causes or (c) natural phenomena came into existence ex nihilo (apart from divine causation or activity).

8. It is not the case that there is an infinite regress of contingent and temporal causes.

9. It is not the case that natural phenomena came into existence ex nihilo (apart from divine causation or activity).

THEREFORE:

2. IF all natural phenomena are contingent and temporal, THEN some aspect of being is eternal and necessary.

JOE:  Is this good enough for me to get started with my analysis and evaluation? or do you want to make further changes?
I take it that this is a cosmological argument with some connection to arguments by Aristotle and Aquinas, but with some modifications inspired by Tillich’s theology or philosophy.

bookmark_borderGeisler’s First Argument

Norman Geisler’s case for God appears to consist of five arguments for the existence of God.
Here is my critique of the opening paragraph of Geisler’s case, and my critique of his first argument for the existence of God:
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NOTE: I forgot that my plan was to put my posts on cases for God here at The Secular Oupost, and put my posts that are more specifically about Jesus and Christianity over on my own blog site.  So, I have moved my post about Geisler’s first argument for the existence of God from my blog site to here.
======================
Before we examine Geisler’s first argument for God, we need to carefully consider the opening paragraph of his case for God in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).  He makes some very important points in this first paragraph:
The existence of a personal moral God is fundamental to all that Christians believe. If there is no moral God, there is no moral being against whom we have sinned; therefore, salvation is not needed. Furthermore, if there is no God, there could be no acts of God (miracles), and the stories of Jesus can only be understood as fiction or myth. So the first question that must be addressed in pre-evangelism is, “Does God exist?” The second question is very closely related to the first: “If God exists, what kind of God is He?”  (WSA, p. 15)
COMMENTARY
The existence of a personal moral God is fundamental to all that Christians believe.
This seems right to me.  If there is no God, then most of the basic beliefs or doctrines of Christianity are false or are probably false.

If there is no moral God, there is no moral being against whom we have sinned; 
This conditional claim appears to be false.  We can “sin” against (or wrong) other human beings even if God does not exist, and human beings are moral beings.  So, we can sin against moral beings even if God does not exist.
Now, if one defines “sin” as meaning “an act of disobedience towards God”, then obviously the non-existence of God would, on that definition, logically imply the non-existence of “sin”.
But if we understand “sin” more generally to mean “an act that is bad, morally wrong, or evil”, then it seems that we could “sin” even if there were no God.  
Geisler will argue against this possibility later, but he has not argued that point yet, so he is not yet entitled to simply assume that no action could be morally wrong if there was no God (i.e. to assume that morality exists only if God exists). To make that assumption at this point in the game would amount to the fallacy of begging the question.
Also, I’m not sure that the qualifier “moral” is essential here.  One could “sin” against a non-moral creature.  If a person raised a dog from a puppy and treated the dog in kind and loving way as it grew up, and then one day took the dog into a basement, chained the dog to a table, and then brutally tortured the dog for hours until the dog died from the pain, shock, and loss of blood, then one would have “sinned” against a non-moral creature.  So, the adjective “moral” seems unnecessary here.  Human beings can do morally wrong actions against non-moral creatures (such as dogs).
therefore, salvation is not needed.
Clearly, if one has never “sinned” or done something that is bad or evil, then one has no need of “salvation” from one’s sins.  That is obviously true.
However, it is NOT in any way obvious that “salvation” MUST be conceived of as “salvation from one’s sins”.  Different religions and worldviews have different conceptions about what the fundamental issue or issues are for human beings.  Different religions diagnose the “disease” or basic problem(s) of human beings differently.  Christianity asserts that the basic human problem or “disease” is sin, but other religions and other worldviews do not accept this view of human nature or of the human situation.  Thus, Geisler appears to be begging the question, begging a very basic worldview question here in favor of the Christian religion or worldview.
Furthermore, if there is no God, there could be no acts of God (miracles)…
It is certainly true that if there is no God, then there are no “acts of God” either.  But Geisler then sneaks the word “miracles” into this claim in parentheses, making the claim significantly more problematic and dubious.  
If we simply define the term “miracle” to MEAN “an event brought about by an act of God”, then clearly the above claim would be correct.  However, the term “miracle” can be used in a broader sense, to mean “an event brought about by any sort of supernatural being or force.” On such a broader defintion, it would be possible for “miracles” to occur even if there were no God.  
God is NOT the only possible supernatural being nor the only possible being who has supernatural powers.  Many Christians believe that there are angels and demons, and they believe that these are supernatural beings who have supernatural powers.  So, even within the Christian worldview, there is the belief that there are supernatural beings and supernatural powers other than God and other than the powers that God directly exerts.
Furthermore, if there is no God, … the stories of Jesus can only be understood as fiction or myth.
This statement is clearly false.  
Geisler is assuming that the alleged supernatural events and supernatural powers asserted in the Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus could be true ONLY IF God exists.  But as I just argued, supernatural beings and supernatural powers can exist even if there were no God.  
According to traditional Christian belief and theology, angels and demons exist, and these are supernatural beings who have supernatural powers, and thus they can bring about supernatural events.  We can conceive of a world in which there are angels or demons but no God, and in such a world there would be supernatural beings and supernatural powers, but no God.  
The non-existence of God, therefore, does NOT logically imply that the Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus are “fiction or myth”.  The “miracles” in the Gospel accounts could have been brought about by a supernatural being other than God, or by some animal or human who possessed supernatural powers.
We see in the first few sentences of the opening paragraph of Geisler’s case for God, that his thinking is infected with some false beliefs and some illogical reasoning related to God.  This does not inspire confidence that his case for God will be based on true premises and logical reasoning. But the final sentences of the opening paragraph indicate that there is a very serious problem with Geisler’s case for God.
So the first question that must be addressed in pre-evangelism is, “Does God exist?”
While this statement has some initial plausibility, I believe Geisler is completely wrong on this point, and that this statement represents a very fundamental error in Geisler’s thinking, an error that destroys or severely damages his case for the existence of God.  
The first question that must be addressed in any evaluation of Christianity is, rather, this:

  • What does the assertion “God exists” mean?

By failing to address this very basic question, Geisler dooms his case for “God” to failure. We can see that he is making this great mistake here by considering his next point.
The second question is very closely related to the first: “If God exists, what kind of God is He?”
Here Geisler clearly reveals that he is following in the footsteps of Thomas Aquinas.  
In the standard view of Aquinas, Aquinas provides Five Ways of proving the existence of God, and then proceeds to prove that God has various divine attributes.  This is exactly the way that Geisler builds his case for the existence of God.  
But this is ASS BACKWARDS. One must first clarify the MEANING of the word “God” and THEN proceed to prove the existence of God. 
The meaning of the word “God” is ordinarily (and properly) defined in terms of various divine attributes, such as “eternal”, “omnipotent”, “omniscient”, and “perfectly morally good”, and “creator of the universe”.  Such a definition reflects the ordinary meaning and use of the word “God” in relation to Christian belief and theology.  
Apart from clarifying or defining the word “God” we literally do not know what Geisler is talking about, and thus we have no rational way to evaluate the strengths or weaknesses of his arguments for the existence of “God”.
Suppose that I want to persuade you that GORPU exists, and I present you with the following argument:
1.  If grass is green, then GORPU exists.
2.  Grass is green.
Therefore:
3. GORPU exists.
This is a perfecly logical argument.  The inference from the two premises to the conclusion is a valid deductive inference.  But would you accept this argument?  Of course not.  You don’t know what “GORPU” means, so you have no way to determine whether premise (1) is true or not.  
Before you can evaluate this argument, you must first understand what the assertion “GORPU exists” means, and since I am the one who is presenting the argument, it is up to me to clarify or define the meaning of this expression, so that you will be able to understand what it means and thus be in a position to rationally evaluate premise (1).
Geisler is violating one of the most basic principles of critical thinking: BE CLEAR, and clarify the meanings of the key concepts that you use in your arguments (especially when those concepts are abstract ideas and/or controversial ideas and/or vague ideas):
Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying. (“Universal Intellectual Standards” by Richard Paul and Linda Elder)
Before Geisler, or anyone else, can prove that “God exists”, it is necessary to clarify or define the meaning of this assertion:
To prove or to produce evidence that a certain being, x, exists, is, one might say, to prove that a certain set of compossible properties is actualized.  That is, we cannot prove or know that x exists without at the same time knowing something about the nature or essence of x
To prove the existence of God is, then, to show that the properties ascribed to the Christian God in the Bible are actualized in one and only one being.  (“Thomas Aquinas” by Knut Tranoy, in A Critical History of Western Philosophy, p.110)
Because Geisler fails to clarify or define the meaning of the assertion “God exists”, his case for God appears to be doomed to failure even before he presents the very first premise of his first argument for the existence of God.
Argument #G1: The universe was caused at the beginning 
1. The universe had a beginning.
2. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.
3. Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, and this cause was God.   
(WSA, p.16)
The first thing to note about argument #G1 is that it is clearly logically invalid.  It is clear that the conclusion (3) does NOT follow logically from the premises. 
The following argument form is logically valid:
1.  x is a B.
2.  Everything that is a B is also a C.
Therefore:
3. x is a C.
But the form of #G1 has an additional claim in the conclusion:
1.  x is a B.
2.  Everything that is a B is also a C.
Therefore:
3. x is a C  AND y is G.
But the premises of #G1 do not mention anything about G,  so the added claim “y is G” does not follow logically from the premises.
Suppose that there is no God, but that there was an angel who existed before the universe came into being.  Suppose that angel caused the universe to come into being.  In that case the universe “was caused by something else” but was NOT caused by God.  
This scenario is completely compatible with the truth of the premises of #G1.  It is compatible with the claim that the “universe had a  beginning” and it is compatible with the claim that “anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.” 
Thus, it is possible for premise (1) and premise (2) to both be true, and yet for the added conclusion “this cause [of the universe] was God” to be false.  Since we can conceive of circumstances in which the premises of #G1 are true and the conclusion of #G1 is false, this argument is logically invalid.
But we can fix Geisler’s embarrassing logical GOOF quite easily, by removing the added claim that Geisler had mistakenly inserted into the conclusion:
Argument #G1revA
1. The universe had a beginning.
2. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.
Therefore:
3a. The universe was caused by something else.  
This argument, unlike #G1, is perfeclty valid.  However, it will not do, because it is missing a very important phrase:
God exists.
In order to repair Geisler’s first argument for the existence of God, we must remove the reference to “God” from the conclusion of the agument. But if we do this, then it is no longer an argument for the existence of God!
In order to prove that God exists, one must provide an argument which has as its conclusion, the claim that “God exists” or that “There is a God”.  An argument that concludes with the claim “the universe was caused by something else” is NOT an argument for the existence of God.
So, either we leave argument #G1 alone and reject it because it is logically invalid, or else we correct the logic of this argument and then reject it because it is no longer an argument for the existence of God.  Either way, the argument fails to prove that God exists.