Part 2 of a discussion and critique of John R. Shook’s The God Debates
Behind the logical plausibility of God lies another argument Shook dismisses in The God Debates, namely, the “Theology beyond the World”(3) which argues that “god is the necessary condition for the universe, for its order, and for its intelligibility.”(4) He recognizes that this assertion appeals to the principle of sufficient reason which he takes seriously — except, of course, in this case. He calls this “the argument from pseudo-cosmology.”(5) (“Pseudo” is a word Shook uses frequently for viewpoints he objects to.)
Here is how he sets up the argument.
- Everything that exists requires an explanation for its existence [a rough statement of the principle of sufficient reason, PSR]
- Nature (a collective label for all natural things) exists, so an explanation is required.
- Nothing natural can serve as an explanation for nature, since a proposed natural thing would just count as more nature.
- Only something supernatural could serve as an explanation for nature.
- It is more reasonable to accept a proposed explanation than to leave something unexplained.
Conclusion. Something supernatural exists to explain nature.(6)
Shook accepts premise #1, the PSR, and then extrapolates that since natural things require a sufficient cause, so must super-natural things. This is a logical category mistake, i.e. treating one kind of thing as if it were another kind of thing. We don’t confuse telephones and the meaning of the conversations held on them. The “child’s question, ‘Who made God’”(7) is a child’s question precisely because it is an elementary category mistake.
The whole point of religion is that God, the Absolute, the Ground of Being — whatever — is not subject to natural limitations such as time, space, and mass simply because He/It is the pre-condition for time, space, and mass etc to exist. That is why He belongs to a different category than ordinary contingent beings. Children usually don’t get this — but adults should.
Shook’s conclusion shows him skating around the logical force of premise #3. Premise #3 claims that even in principle, nature, matter, the physical world does not explain itself. Any attempt to explain the existence of nature by means of nature ends with an infinite regress — a sign that our reasoning is off. In other words, any attempt to explain nature in strictly natural terms fails to satisfy the PSR.
If we try to identify a natural event that caused it all, we need simply ask what natural event caused that and so on ad infinitum. Since it is a natural event and not a ‘super-natural’ event, it requires a natural cause. Obviously, there cannot be an infinite line of events any more than there can be an infinite line of particular things. Every causal act and every individual entity can always be counted. No matter how many, they have a definite number — which infinity does not. You cannot have an indefinite, i.e. infinite number of things or events. If there are individual events and/or things, we need a starting point or as Aristotle put it, a first mover, i.e. God (which does not, of course, necessarily mean a “personal” God.) This is one among the many reasons why nature cannot explain nature.
Second, how could a cause (A) ever work its way through (a supposed) infinity of individual causes to have a particular effect at a future moment? It cannot get to the future — and, therefore, cannot be a cause. The distance between it and that future moment is infinite. We hasten to add that this is not a misuse of Zeno’s paradox because the space through which Zeno’s arrow travels is not made of real individual points. They are only imagined. However, the causal events in a supposedly infinite causal sequence are indeed made up of individual events which must be traversed one at a time. Thus, we know there can be no infinite line of causal events leading to the Big Bang.
However, if such a line is impossible, then there must be a limit, i.e. a first cause – or “God”, if you prefer, to initiate the sequence.
The strictly naturalist explanation of the existence of nature fails the PSR, which states that every thing-event requires an explanation for its existence and why it exists the way it does and not in some other way. There are reasons why running shoes exist and why they are the way they are. As we have seen, Shook’s naturalist explanation does not explain the existence of nature, let alone why nature is the way it is. No matter how much mathematics we bring to bear to our explanations, sooner or later we will bring up the PSR to the singularity, the branes, the quantum vacuum (which turns out to be not so empty) and so on.
The bottom line is that, in principle, no physical explanation for the existence of the universe can ultimately satisfy the PSR. It’s time for science to stop playing Don Quixote with the cosmic windmills.
The upshot of all this is that if nature cannot explain the origin of nature, then the possibility of some kind of non-natural origin of nature must be considered. It is not a matter of shoe-horning in a silly premise like #5 and its conclusion as Shook does in his parody of a theist argument, but rather a matter of recognizing that if nature cannot explain nature, we have no choice but to look at non-natural (i.e. super-natural) alternatives. This does not prove that a personal God exists but it does make it rationally necessary to consider super-natural origins of nature.
Next time: Fine-tuning God
============= References ==============
3 John R Shook, The God Debates, p. 153.
4 John R Shook, The God Debates, p. 153.
5 John R Shook, The God Debates, p. 153.
6 John R Shook, The God Debates, p. 134.
7 John R Shook, The God Debates, p. 134.