Thursday, August 18, 2011

RE: God is Impossible: A Final Proof

I saw this video on youtube recently. This is Kathleen King presenting an argument she got from Lynne Atwater, who she says is a clinical psychologist. It's an attempt to demonstrate that God doesn't exist by pointing out a contradiction in the notion of God. Although Kathleen claims that the argument uses "simple deductive logic," she doesn't actually present her arguments in tidy syllogisms so that we can see the deduction clearly. I'm going to attempt to put her arguments into syllogisms. I realize I risk being accused of misrepresenting her argument by doing this, but I'm going to do the best I can. This is essentially what the argument is:

1. If creation is impossible, God's existence is impossible.
2. Creation is impossible.
3. Therefore, God's existence is impossible.

Of course this is a logically valid syllogism, so the only question is whether these premises are true. So let's look at how she defends them.

1. If creation is impossible, God's existence is impossible.

She bases this premise on her definition of God, which she gets from Webster's dictionary, and which says that God is "the creator and ruler of the universe." So this is her argument:

1.1 If creation is impossible, then it's impossible for the universe to be created.
1.2 If it's impossible for the universe to be created, then it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist.
1.3 If it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist, then God's existence is impossible.
1.4 Therefore, if creation is impossible, then God's existence is impossible.

That's about as tidy as I can make her argument, and hopefully she won't object to this characterization. Now let's discuss these premises.

1.1 If creation is impossible, then it's impossible for the universe to be created.

This is obviously true, and I hope nobody reading this needs me to explain why.

1.2 If it's impossible for the universe to be created, then it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist.

There is an imprecision in this premise that I'm going to let slide because the imprecision will come up again when I talk about the next premise. For now, let's assume for the sake of argument that this premise is true.

1.3 If it's impossible for the creator of the universe to exist, then God's existence is impossible.

This premise is based on her definition of God as "the creator and ruler of the universe." The truth of this premise depends on the definition being an identity statement. If "God" and "the creator of the universe" are identical, then if one doesn't exist, the other doesn't exist. When we say that "God is the creator of the universe," we must be using the is of identity for her premise to be true.

But this dictionary definition is not using the is of identity. Rather, it's using the is of predication. That God created the universe is not an essential attribute of God. After all, in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theism, God did not need the universe to exist. He could have refrained from creating the universe. In some characterizations, God actually existed before the universe existed. If God existed before the universe existed, then he obviously couldn't have been defined as "the creator of the universe." He became the creator of the universe subsequent to creation. The fact that God created the universe is just something that happens to be true of God. So, when Kathleen says, "Without creation, God can't exist," she's obviously not talking about the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim God.

I know a lot of people will disagree with what I'm saying here. Some of my fellow Christian apologists (like Greg Koukl and Brett Kunkle of STR) argue that Yahweh and Allah cannot be the same God since different properties are attributed to each of them. Using the indiscernibility of identicals, they argue that since there are things that are true of Allah that are not true of Yahweh, and vice versa, that Allah and Yahweh cannot be the same God.

But I have maintained that there is a flaw in such reasoning. After all, Calvinists and Arminians believe different things about God, but that doesn't mean the God of the Calvinists and the God of the Arminians are different Gods altogether. All it means is that one or both of them are wrong about what they believe about God. In the same way, it seems at least possible that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but just believe different things about him. I called Greg's radio show one time and pressed him on this point (October 24, 2010). After giving me his argument from the indiscernibility of identicals, I asked him if he would apply the same principle to the Jews. After all, the Jews believe in a unitarian God, whereas we believe in a trinitarian God. Does that mean Jews and Christians worship different Gods? Greg made an exception in their case and said we worship the same God, but that Jews are just mistaken to say that God is only one person. But couldn't we just say that the Muslims are mistaken in what they attribute to God? Greg and I did not resolve our differences (and as an aside, I'm agnostic on the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God).

In the same way, it's possible that God exists, but that we are mistaken to attribute creation to him. So premise 1.3 cannot be accepted without some qualification. For those who think it is appropriate to apply the indiscernibility of identicals to distinguish between different gods of different belief systems, you may find premise 1.3 to be true without qualification. But if you do, please be aware of the difficulties that is going to cause you.

Since there is room for debate here, I'm just going to say that premise 1 may or may not be true. My primary problem with this argument is premise 2, which I will discuss presently.

2. Creation is impossible.

This is the crux of Kathleen's argument, and it's also the weakest link in the argument. The reason Kathleen thinks creation is impossible is because it entails a logical contradiction. Actually, she infers two contradictions from the notion of creation.

The first contradiction comes from the fact that creation entails something coming from nothing. The second contradiction comes from the fact that if the universe came into existence out of nothing, then not even God existed before creation. Let's take them one at a time.

The first contradiction

Creation entails something coming into existence out of nothing, which Kathleen thinks entails a contradiction.

Let me make a digression here and explain what a contradiction is. A contradiction is when one claim is the negation of another claim. The claim that "My cat is pregnant" contradicts the claim that "My cat is not pregnant." But there's more. Before these two claims can really be contradictory, they must be talking about the same cat at the same time and in the same sense. After all, I've got two cats. If "My cat" in the first sentence referred to Psyche, and "My cat" in the second sentence referred to Aristotle, then the statements would not really be contradicting each other. Or, if I uttered one statement while Psyche was pregnant, and I uttered the other statement right after she gave birth to all her kittens, the statements would not contradict each other. Or, if I meant "pregnant" in a literal sense in the first statement but a metaphorical sense in the second statement, then the statements do not contradict each other. To have a genuine contradiction, you have to be talking about the same thing at the same time and in the same sense. This is important because it has a bearing on the soundness of Kathleen's argument.

With that in mind, how is it that the notion of something coming out of nothing entails a contradiction? Kathleen doesn't tell us explicitly what the two propositions are that supposedly contradict each other, but you can kind of guess from the illustration she uses. In the illustration, she says that she has a house that is completely empty. Then she says,"If you really need something, I could go inside my house and get it for you." She thinks that would be contradictory because "the definition of my house would be both true and false at the same time." There's a caption on the video that says, "nothing =/= something."

Apparently, these are the two statements she thinks are contradictory:

2.1 There is nothing in my house.
2.2 There is something in my house.

Now, remember the explanation above of what a contradiction is. Before these two claims can contradict each other, they must be talking about the same thing at the same time and in the same sense. If I went into the empty house, created something out of nothing, then came out of the house with the thing I just created, then it will have been true that "There is nothing in my house" and that "There is something in my house," but both statements would not have been true at the same time. So there would be no contradiction.

Kathleen claims that the creation of the universe from nothing would be just like saying you could get something out of her empty house. If there's nothing in the house to get, then you can't get something out of the house. In the same way, the universe can't come into existence out of nothing.

The problem with Kathleen's argument should be immediately obvious, even to her. She says in her video that "Creation can't be two opposite things at the same time" [the emphasis is my own]. She's absolutely right. By the law of non-contradiction, the universe can't both exist and not exist at the same time. But, of course, nobody who claims that the universe was created is under the impression that the universe existed and didn't exist at the same time. The Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo does not entail any contradiction because it doesn't claim that "Nothing exists" and that "Something exists," at the same time as Kathleen's video portrays it. There is no contradiction. Creation ex nihilo is simply the idea that God brought the universe into existence without the use of pre-existing material. I'll say more about that next.

The second contradiction

The second contradiction comes from the fact that creation out of nothing entails that not even God existed before creation. But God would have to exist if he is to create anything. So here is the contradiction (as far as I can see):

2.3 God existed before creation.
2.4 God did not exist before creation.

The problem with Kathleen's argument is simply that she is confused about what creation out of nothing means. It doesn't mean that nothing at all existed before creation. All it means is that what came into existence did not come into existence out of pre-existing material. If God were to create a red rubber ball right now without using any material that is already in existence, that would be an example of creation ex nihilo even though the whole universe already exists. It would differ from what Kathleen refers to as "transformation." When Christians say that God created the universe out of nothing, they do not mean that the universe came into existence without a cause.

It may help Kathleen to understand the distinction between a material cause and an efficient cause. A material cause is the material out of which an object is made. An efficient cause is the thing that brings about change or motion. If somebody made a longbow out of a tree, the tree would be the material cause of the bow, and the person would be the efficient cause of the bow. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is that the universe has an efficient cause, but it does not have a material cause. So creation out of nothing does not entail that God wasn't around to create the universe.

The crux of Kathleen's argument is that creation is impossible since it violates the law of non-contradiction. But Kathleen's argument fails because she has not demonstrated any contradiction. Without that crucial premise, Kathleen's argument against the existence of God fails.


At 8/18/2011 12:14 PM , Blogger Amy said...

This is great, Sam!

I just want to say something about the question of whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I think I would have to say that it's not possible that Muslims and Christians worship the same God—not necessarily because of the "God" part of that claim, but because of the "worship" part. If you're actively teaching against core truths about who God is and what He's done, and if all your works for Him are not coupled with true faith in His character and actions (particularly on the cross), then I could not call that real worship. You are doing something towards the God of the universe, but whatever it is, it's not in truth and it's not in faith, and your unforgiven sin and corruption still has you in a place of enmity against God—a receiver of His wrath. There is no mediator who makes it possible for you to stand before God. They simply are not engaging in real worship.

I would say the same for people who claim to be Christians and yet reject core truths about God (like Trinitarianism) and the cross (like those who would deny Jesus paid for our sins and was resurrected).

At 8/18/2011 1:01 PM , Blogger Mike Westfall said...

Wow, great analysis, Sam!

At 9/03/2011 10:54 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

I agree with your main objections to the argument. however, I think it is reasonable to say that if people use the term 'god' to refer to an agent in such a way that the predicate 'creator' is a necessary condition for calling the agent 'god', then if it were shown that creation is impossible, there is a sense in which 'god' does not exist.

At 9/03/2011 11:25 AM , Blogger Sam said...

I agree, Psiomniac. If being a creator is a necessary attribute of God, and if creation is impossible, then it's impossible for any god to be a creator. So it's impossible for any creator gods to exist. But in the Christian worldview, God did not have to create, so creation is not a necessary condition for calling him "God." If it turned out that creation was impossible, that would prove that Christianity was false, but it wouldn't prove that there were no gods.

At 9/03/2011 11:39 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

I agree. Yay!

At 11/07/2011 1:28 PM , Blogger bobbygthomas said...

What does logical necessity have to do with material implication? I missed something. If my house is empty and I get something for you from inside it? Really?

At 11/07/2011 3:11 PM , Blogger bobbygthomas said...

Identity is a universal logical necessity. Without identity no assertion is possible for we could never individuate between any two things, thoughts, or words; and no statement could ever be affirmed or denied. The Christian contention is that God is identity and this is the Biblical claim of God Himself (Exodus 3:14). Jesus also claims Himself to be this very same identity (John 8:58). Now God The Father is Himself identity (reflexive) and between Himself and God The Son is equality (symmetrical). Between God, The Spirit of God, and God The Father is also equality. These three equalities are transitivity. This is the Christian Trinitarian God. This is what the logical formalism of the 19th century has discovered. The logical principles which arise from the nature of God are irreplaceable, universal, and necessary to all human thought of existence. Man is the image of God and as such his mind reflects the nature of God (Genesis 1:27). Man can not think apart from these laws. They are the constitution of his mind qua mind. To express these relations within God in other terms we have "(A=A)" and "(B<A)(C<B)<CA". The Bible likewise identifies Jesus as Logic itself and as the rationality of all human minds; and of course He also necessarily is the rationality of those minds who would deny Him, for apart from Him they could not deny Him (John 1:9). This is why the Bible says that a fool thinks that there is no God (Psalm 14:). It is indeed foolish to use logic to deny logic. Now, since no necessary logical principle is the conclusion of any argument, these principles can never be proven. These are the basis of all argument not the conclusion of any particular argument. God can never be proved or disproved because He is the necessary cause of all human thought. You may deny that God is reason but the Bible denies your denial and clearly asserts at least this much of God; that he is reason. Therefore, if you hope to disprove The Christian God you must deny that, according to the Biblical formulation, He could ever be the very principles of reason or you must deny reason itself which is eternal, necessary, and undeniable.

At 10/03/2016 6:43 PM , Blogger Vernon Smithjr said...

You apparently haven't went beyond any freshman logic classes because you make a typical error. Modus ponens has a specific use that only applies to acknowledged truths After all modus ponens means to affirm through affirming. By definition the subject matter can only be acknowledge truths.
Your so called valid syllogism is nothing more than a personal opinion fallacy. It's useless. What a waste of conversation, typical atheist ignorance. You don't even know Aristotle's basis for devising and using modus ponens as a logical proof.

At 10/03/2016 8:52 PM , Blogger Sam Harper said...

Oh Vernon.

At 10/23/2016 9:50 AM , Anonymous Vern said...

Yes. The example of her if then syllogism you first post has no value and isn't valid as you argue. There's no debate in regards to it.


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