bookmark_borderFeser’s Case for God – Part 2: Chunking Up the Aristotelian Argument

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
In Chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God (hereafter: FPEG),  Edward Feser presents his Aristotelian argument for the existence of God.  This is the most important argument in the book, because the other four arguments presented by Feser in later chapters all have a significant dependency on this first argument.
Specifically, the other four arguments rely on the assumption that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, being eternal, being fully good, etc.).  These assumptions are argued for in the Aristotelian argument, so if that part of the Aristotelian argument fails, then the remaining four arguments also fail.  If Feser fails to prove that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes, then ALL FIVE of his arguments for the existence of God FAIL.   Similarly, if Feser succeeds in proving that a purely actual being must have various divine attributes, then significant portions of the other four arguments also succeed.  So, a great deal rests on Feser’s Aristotelian argument.
 
THE BASIC FORM OF THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
All five of Feser’s arguments for the existence of God have the same basic form:

I. There is exactly one being of type X.

II. IF there is exactly one being of type X, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

III. God exists.

Feser’s Aristotelian argument can be summarized using the same form:

IA. There is exactly one purely actual actualizer.

IIA. IF there is exactly one purely actual actualizer, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

III. God exists.

In Feser’s formal outline of the Aristotelian argument (FPEG,  p.35-37), there are fifty statements.  Statements (1) through (18) contain the reasoning supporting (IA), and statements (19) through (49) contain the reasoning supporting (IIA).  So, the Aristotelian argument can be divided into two large pieces.
 
CHUNKING UP THE ARISTOTELIAN ARGUMENT
I plan to examine somewhat smaller pieces of the argument.  To guide my critique, I will divide Feser’s Aristotelian argument into seven small-to-medium-size chunks:
I.  There is at least one purely actual actualizer: premises (1) through (14).
II. There cannot be more than one purely actual actualizer: premises (15) through (18).
III. Any purely actual actualizer must be immutable, eternal, immaterial, and incorporeal: premises (19) through (27).
IV. Any purely actual actualizer must be perfect and fully good: premises (28) through (32).
V. Any purely actual actualizer must be omnipotent: premises (33) through (37).
VI. Any purely actual actualizer must be  the cause of the existence of all beings, intelligent, and omniscient: premises (38) through (47).
VII. God exists IF AND ONLY IF there is exactly one purely actual actualizer and that  being is immutable, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect, fully good, omnipotent, the cause of the existence of all beings, intelligent, and omniscient: premise (49).
NOTE: Premise (48) is a conjunction that summarizes several previous sub-conclusions: (18), (21), (23), (25), (27), (29), (32), (37), (39), (44), and (47).
Given this way of dividing the Aristotelian argument up into seven chunks, I plan to write at least seven posts on this argument, and I might well need to write more than one post on some of these chunks, so it could easily take a dozen posts for me to critically examine this first, and most important argument in Feser’s case for the existence of God.

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 5: The Gap Between Phase 1 and Phase 2

Here is my version of Geisler’s first argument in Phase 2 of his case for God:
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 2
 

10a. Only a being with great power could create the whole universe by itself, and only a being with great power could sustain the existence of the whole universe by itself  (for even just one moment).
 
11a. There is a being that both (a) created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past), and that (b) sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).
 
THEREFORE:
 
12a. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past), and that being both (a) had great power (in the distant past) and (b) has great power (right now).

Premise (10a) has some initial plausibility, so I can understand why Geisler does not provide an argument in support of that premise.  
Premise (11a), however, is clearly a controversial and questionable claim, so he needs to provide reasosns or arguments to support (11a).  But NONE of Geisler’s five initial arguments proves that (11a) is true.  However, premise (11a) presupposes the following two claims:
 

13. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past).
 
14. There is a being that sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).
 
Geisler would presumably claim that his first argument from Phase 1 can be used to prove (13) and that his second argument from Phase 1 can be used to prove (14).  But if we take a closer look at those two arguments, it will become clear that they do not show that (13) is true, nor that (14) is true.
 

Let’s take a look at the first argument that Geisler presents in Phase 1 of his case (WSA, p.16) :
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 1
 

16. The universe had a beginning (in the distant past).

17. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by something else.
 

THEREFORE:

1. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the distant past) by something else.
 

Premise (17) is ambiguous in terms of the quantification implied by the phrase “caused by something else”. Here are two different interpretations of premise (17):

17a.  Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by exactly one other thing or being.
 

17b. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by at least one other thing or being.
 

I am something that had a beginning, and my beginning was caused by TWO other beings: my mother and my father.  So, it appears that (17a) is a FALSE generalization.  If Geisler had intended premise (17) to refer to “exactly one” being, as spelled out in (17a), then the second premise of his first argument is FALSE, and that argument is thus UNSOUND.

However, we can be charitable and assume that what Geisler had in mind was (17b), which is not subject to the counterexample that I just gave.  If we interpret premise (17) to mean what is stated in (17b), then we need to also revise the conclusion, so that it follows logically from the combination of (16) and (17b):
 

ARGUMENT #1 OF PHASE 1 – Revised
 

16. The universe had a beginning (in the distant past).
 
17b. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused to begin to exist by at least one other thing or being.
 
THEREFORE:
 
1a. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the distant past) by at least one thing or being other than the universe. 
 

This conclusion, however, falls short of showing the truth of the assumption that Geisler needed to prove:
 

13. There is a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past).
 

The conclusion (1a) does not imply claim (13),  because (1a) does NOT say that the universe was caused to begin to exist by exactly one thing or being, so (1b) leaves open the possibility that many beings caused the universe to begin to exist.  If many beings caused the universe to begin to exist, then it would be false to say that some particular being created the whole universe by itself.  Thus,  Geisler’s first argument in Phase 1 FAILS to provide needed support for premise (13), so it also FAILS to provide needed support for premise (11a) in the first argument of Phase 2.
 

Furthermore, (1b) talks about the cause of the universe; it does not talk about what created the universe.  If a being “created” the universe by itself, then that being also caused the universe to come into existence, but the reverse is not necessarily the case.  If a thing or  being “caused” the universe to come into existence, that thing or being might not be the creator of the universe.
 

We can, for example, imagine one being causing the basic matter of the universe to come into existence, and another being orgainzing that matter into stars and planets, and solar systems and galaxies.  The being who caused the matter of the univese to come into existence would not be the creator of our universe, in that the major astronomical components of our universe were not brought into existence by that being.  The being who took the raw materials provided by the frst being and organized that matter into stars, planets, solar systems, and galaxies, might, however, be justifiably called the “creator” of our universe.  

Or, possibly, neither of these beings would be accurately described by the term “the creator of the universe”, because they might both be considered “partially responsible” for the origin of our universe, in which case it seems misleading to call either being “the creator”.  In any case, the cause of the beginning of the universe need not be “the creator” of the universe, so we cannot legitimately infer (13) from (1b).

The first argument from Geisler’s Phase 1 fails to support premise (11b) in the first argument of Phase 2 of his case for God. There is clearly a logical gap between the conclusion of the first argument of Phase 1 and the premise (11b) of the first argument of Phase 2. The former argument FAILS to establish the truth of claim (13), and thus FAILS to provide support for premise (11b). What about claim (14)?  Does the second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case show that claim (14) is true?  Let’s take a closer look at the second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case (WSA, p.18-19):


ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1

18. Finite, changing things exist.
19. Every finite, changing thing must be caused by something else.
20. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes.
THEREFORE:
2. There is a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.
 
Here is my (partially) clarified version of this argument:
ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1 – Rev. A
18a. Finite, changing things exist (right now).
19a. The current existence of every finite, changing thing that exists (right now) must be caused by something else that exists (right now).
20a. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes (of current existence).
THEREFORE:
2a. There is a first uncaused cause that exists (right now) of the current existence of every finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
I have previously stated that the conclusion of this second argument in Phase 1 of Geisler’s case is ambiguous and has two different meanings.  But in fact, it has at least four different meanings, because there are two different ambiguities in the conclusion (2a).  
Here are the four different interpretations of the conclusion (2a):
2b. There is exactly one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
2c. There is exactly one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now).
2d. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).
2e. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now).
The interpretations that speak of “exactly one” uncaused cause, should be rejected, because the argument cannot plausibly support such strong conclusions.  For premise (19a) to be plausible, it must leave open the possibility that two or more things could work together to cause the current existence of a finite, changing thing.  If one were to interpret (19a) as implying that there can only be exactly one being that is the uncaused cause of a particular finite, changing being that exists (right now), then (19a) should be rejected as an implausible claim, and thus this second argument should be rejected as well.  
The Argument #2 of Phase 1 only has a hope of being acceptable if we interpret (19a) as leaving open the possibility that two or more things or beings could work together to cause the current existence of a finite, changing thing.  Therefore, since the conclusions (2b) and (2c) do NOT logically follow from this argument, given that interpretation of (19a), we should reject interpretations (2b) and (2c).  
That leaves us with interpretations (2d) and (2e).   Interpretation (2e) should be rejected for the same sort of reason that we rejected interpretations (2b) and (2c), namely, that this would require an understanding of the meaning of (19a) that would make that premise implausible:
19b. The current existence of all finite, changing things that exist (right now) must be caused by at least one other thing or being that exists (right now).
This premise asserts that ALL of the trillions of trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by at least one thing or being.  But it is clearly conceivable and logically possible that SOME  of the trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by one thing, let’s call it “Thing 1” and that OTHER bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now) are being caused to continue to exist by some different thing, let’s call it “Thing 2”.  Geisler has given us no reason whatsoever to reject this scenario as logically impossible, and there is no obvious reason to think it is logically impossible, so we should reject (19b) as a dubious and probably false claim, and thus reject Argument #2 of Phase 1, if premise (19) is interpreted as meaning what is stated in (19b).  Thus, Argument #2 of Phase 1 cannot be used to provide solid support for conclusion (2e).  
That leaves us with just one possible interpretation of the conclusion: (2d).  Here is my best and final clarification of this argument:
ARGUMENT #2 OF PHASE 1 – Rev. B
18a. Finite, changing things exist (right now).
19c. The current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now) must be caused by at least one other thing or being that exists (right now).
20a. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes (of current existence).
THEREFORE:
2d. There is at least one first uncaused cause that exists (right now) for the current existence of each finite, changing thing that exists (right now).  
One could still object to (19c) as being in need of a supporting reason or argument, but it is at least a bit more plausible than the other interpretations of premise (19) that we have considered.  Given this interpretation of premise (19), the conclusion that is logically entailed by Argument #2 of Phase 1 leaves open the possibility that there are MANY (perhaps even trillions) of first uncaused causes of the current existence of the trillions of trillions of bits of finite, changing matter that make up the universe (right now).  Becuase conclusion (2d) FAILS to rule out this possibility, it also FAILS to provide proof of claim (14):
14. There is a being that sustains the existence of the whole universe by itself (right now).  
In conclusion, ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 1 FAILS to prove (13), and ARGUMENT #2 of Phase 1 FAILS to prove (14), so neither of these arguments help to prove premise (11a) of ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 2.  Therefore, there is a serious logical GAP between Geisler’s arguments in Phase 1, and a key controversial premise of a key argument in Phase 2 of Geisler’s case for the existence of God.  
Geisler believes that the first two arguments of Phase 1 support this key premise of the first argument of Phase 2, but he is wrong. Once we clarify the meanings of the premises and conclusions of these various arguments, it becomes obvious that Geisler’s case for the existence of God is logically invalid.  (2d) does NOT imply (14), and (1a) does NOT imply (13).  Geisler’s case for God thus rests on a questionable premise for which he has FAILED to provide a good reason or sound argument, namely premise (11a) in ARGUMENT #1 of Phase 2.
Part of Geislers Case for God
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NOTE:
Premise (15) is a placeholder for one or more claims that when taken together show that a being that created the whole universe by itself (in the distant past) and a being that sustains the current existence of the whole universe by itself (right now) must be the same being.  Geisler does not give us any reason to believe these beings are the same being.  
Later on, he does argue that there can be only ONE being of infinite power and infinite knowledge, but that argument presupposes the truth of (11a) and (12a) and thus is of no help in proving the truth of (11a) at this earlier stage of his case.
 

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.
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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.