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Friday, June 10, 2016


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Your sixth requirement for an argument's being a proof is that its premises are "known to be true". I'm curious about your use of the passive voice here ("known by whom?", one wonders). It would appear to have this consequence: whether an argument is a proof or not is agent-relative. For the premises of an argument will be known to be true by some agents and not by others. If that's right, then, we shouldn't really talk about whether an argument is a proof or not -- as such. We should instead talk about whether an argument is a proof for you or a proof for me. Note too that those who fail to satisfy a requirement of knowing (by stubbornly refusing to believe, for example), may conveniently prevent an argument from reaching proof-hood (for them).

Somehow, though, I don't think you'll quite like those consequences.

Perhaps the sixth requirement is that the premises are known -- by someone, anyone -- to be true. But then, if there is an omniscient being, every sound argument will meet the sixth requirement; for someone -- namely, God -- will indeed know all truths and thus know all true premises. I'm tempted to conclude, then, that if classical theism is true, classical theism is provable.

Thanks for the excellent comments, Andrew.

Known by whom? Known by us, or some suitably selected proper subset of us. We are the producers and consumers of arguments, and we produce them to convince ourselves of things, and sometimes others. To put it most 'existentially,' known BY ME. It is my intellectual and spiritual salvation that is of greatest interest to me.

>> if classical theism is true, classical theism is provable.<< No doubt. But God doesn't need a proof of his existence. His knowledge of his existence is immediate, not discursively mediated. WE need, or rather would like, one or more proofs of God's existence.

So the question is not whether the existence of God is provable by anyone, but whether it is provable by me and you and others like us. Discursive intellects, ectypal intellects.

I am comfortable with the notion that whether an argument is a proof or not is agent-relative. The ontological argument is not a proof for us -- Aquinas is right about this -- but it is a proof for God, though an unnecessary one for him.

A rather more mundane example of agent-relativity:

Blacks are 12-14% of the population
Hispanics are 15-17% of the population
There are more Hispanics than blacks.

I know that the first premise is true, but I don't know whether the second is true. So even if the argument is sound, this argument does not generate knowledge for me.

But if both premises are true, and you know that both are true, then this argument does generate knowledge for you.

So what is a proof for you is not a proof for me.

I don't think I was asking about what you call a knock down drag out argument. I think instead what stood out to me was your distinction about rationally compelling. Is this like persuasion? I don't think I would include that on the list. For instance, someone might believe that it is plausible to posit a universe from nothing. Others might find this compelling. I think this is different than your example about justice and capital punishment because it involves very basic terms like being and non-being. So perhaps what I should have asked first is what is meant by "God" in your statement about not having a proof? Once we have a definition perhaps we can begin thinking about how to give proof for the parts of the definition. Can we know that being doesn't come from non-being? Of course it doesn't show theism is true but it seems to be a necessary first step, and a relevant one since there are persons who say the entire universe can come into being from nothing (they don't mean creation ex nihilo).

Sorry, I emailed without seeing the comments box was open.

Is it rational (a) to accept that your belief cannot be proved and at the same time (b) have a reason for believing?

I am not sure it is. A reason is what you would say if asked why you believe X. Is it rational to provide a reason for X that we accept does not prove or establish X?

Or is your point that we can believe X without having a reason? That seems equally strange to me.


You are not addressing the fundamental question: under what conditions is an argument a proof?

As for the definition of 'God,' I am assuming the standard definition.

What do you think about showing the opposite is impossible as an example of proof? We can apply this to the claim that the universe came from nothing.

I should have added that I agree with you if the claim you are arguing against is that there is a proof along the lines of: premise 1, premise 2, conclusion: this all men call God.

I doesn't seem that comments for your recent post are on so can I post here instead? A follow-up question: if the atheist is not irrational is there any sense in which one ought not to believe atheism? Or a sense in which one ought to believe theism?

Well, prudential/pragmatic considerations might kick in.

Proofs of the existence of God are based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which basically states that reality is ultimately rationally explainable. But why would someone assume that reality is ultimately rationally explainable whithout being theist or at least panentheist in the first place? I.e. without assuming that ultimate reality is Reason (Logos), of which our reason participates?

My argument for the existence of God starts from five facts:

F1. The universe is a contingent entity: it could have been different and it could not be at all. Moreover...

F2. The universe began to exist 13,800 million years ago, and there is no solid scientific theory that give a physical cause of that beginning, only unfalsifiable conjectures. (OTOH, a cyclic universe which bangs, expands to a maximum, then contracts to a minimum to bounce and bang again, is not plausible since it is well known since 1998 that the expansion is accelerating and will go on forever. And if "this" instance of the universe will expand forever, why would hypotethical "previous" instances have behaved differently?)

F3. The universe works causally according to mathematically expressible laws.

F4: Fundamental physical constants show a fine tuning that makes the universe adequate for the development of complex life forms.

F5: The human mind reasons based on causality and is capable of creating mathematical formal systems, including those that express the laws that describe the working of the universe.

Given those facts, each person can adopt one of two positions, the first explaining the facts rationally and the second simply accepting them as "brute facts".

Spiritual-Rational position:

There exists an ultimate, subsistent Being which is Spirit and Reason (Logos), Who created the universe (explains F1 & F2) according to reason (explains F3) with the purpose of hosting rational creatures (explains F4), whose rational capacity resides in a spiritual soul created in the image of Spiritual, Uncreated Reason (explains F5).

In this position, the universe has explanation and human life has meaning, subsisting after death.

Materialist-Evolutionist position

F1 ... F3: “brute fact”, “that’s just the way it is”.

F4: fine tuning is probably due to the fact that there are innumerable universes, in which case we have obviously appeared in one of them which is fit for life. Or maybe there are not many universes and F4 is just another brute fact.

F5: the monkey who thought the branch moved without reason was eaten by a predator and could not pass on his genes. On the other hand, the capacity for mathematics and abstract thinking is emergent from neural network complexity and does not require a spiritual soul, notwithstanding Thomists' TL;DR arguments on the contrary.

In this position, the universe does not have explanation and human life does not have meaning, ending in death. Nor does mankind as a whole have meaning, since it is well known that Earth will have been scorched by the sun in at most 2 billion years.

Do you think we can give a proof, given your definition, to show that something has existed from eternity?

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