03 December 2007

Ground of Being

We talked about Demea's argument for the existence of Deity today in class. It's a rather beautiful variant of the First Cause argument.

1. If anything exists, something has to exist on its own (because of what it is)
2. What exists on its own exists necessarily
3. What necessarily exists is (called) God

Interestingly, the objections that Cleanthes and Philo had to this argument were largely aesthetic. Cleanthes insisted that any being we could conceive of as existing we could also conceive of as not existing. Philo complained that this thing that necessarily exists could be, for instance, matter, that there could be some property inherent in matter that would make it impossible for matter not to exist. I'm with Dr. Levenson on this one, that the argument is stronger than these objections.

So let me turn from metaphysics to physics. We have the Big Bang. Based on my recent readings, this is no longer thought of as the "ultimate beginning," but, rather, a beginning. Something came before it. And something came before that, and maybe there's an infinite chain of somethings. The question remains of how the chain got started. Demea would say that there was something, some essence, which, by its nature, cannot fail to exist. This might be something perfectly ordinary, like matter, or it might be something more like the deity that Demea is seeking. In terms of physics, my money's on spacetime, but I can't even begin to imagine a way to prove that. What would need to be proven, in the context of this argument, is that by the very nature of spacetime, it must exist; it is, in some sense, its own cause. At some point in the infinite regress, there must be a point like this, where something is its own cause.

In fact, this is one of Philo's objections, that mere matter (or space) might fulfill Demea's requirements. I don't see that as a problem myself. Now, for someone looking for a particular god, or even a particular kind of god, this argument is of no use. All the argument says is "find that which, when properly understood, one cannot conceive of it not existing; call it God." I find "god" an odd label in this instance, since there's no real indication of what sort of properties it must have, other than it necessarily must exist, that its non-existence would be impossible. Tao might be a better label for it.

But the thing that I really like about the argument is the contrapositive. "If we can conceive of X not existing, then X is not the first cause." I can conceive of the keyboard I'm typing on not existing; I'm reasonably certain it didn't exist, say, five years ago; therefore, my keyboard is not the first cause. I can conceive of the Christian god, as people have tried to explicate this god to me, not existing, therefore the Christian god is not the first cause. I cannot conceive of spacetime not existing, though I've tried; this is not proof of anything, but it's the only tangible thing I can think of that I cannot conceive of not existing.

Taking it further, the mere statement "I believe in X" implies that X is not the first cause, since it implies the possibility of disbelief in X, i.e. that it is possible to conceive of X not existing. The first cause is that which, when properly understood, is seen to require existence due to its very nature. Admitting to doubts of X's existence is thus proof that X is not the first cause. I have yet to see a description of any theistic god whose existence seems necessary to me. There is, of course, an out: "when properly understood." But as I have a satisfactory first cause that is necessary and sufficient, why would I look any further? I cannot conceive of the Tao's nonexistence, and it is sufficient to be the first cause.

Admittedly, I would never say that "The Tao exists." I might say that, "The Tao is."

"Is what?"


I feel like I ought to say more about Tao at this point, but there isn't much to say. Maybe my starting point that eventually led me to the Tao might help. I began with the tautology, "God is God," and went from there. That was my assumption. Eventually I changed the label "god", as it carries misleading baggage with it, but I didn't know that when I began. *sighs* If you want to know about Tao, read the Tao te Ching. The best I can do to explain is to wave a spoon.


John said...

I don't have a particularly philosophical mindset.

I agree with you that the argument applies equally well, or better, to spacetime than to, for example, the Xian god.

But I am comfortable with "I don't know." as an answer.

I can wait until all the evidence is in.

If there is no evidence, I will add "but probably not." (This is the basis of my atheism) If evidence becomes available, then I am willing to consider it.

Without evidence (which includes rigorous mathematics) then debate is nothing more than idle speculation, however interesting the question might be, and at the end of the day, "I don't know." still holds.

I'm a wet blanket at parties, too.

Qalmlea said...

LOL. I have no problem with that. ^/^ And the "proof" does not guarantee that anything like a deity exists, only that something that exists of itself exists. That something could be the whole universe. But whatever that something is, I'll call it Tao. `/^