Friday, November 04, 2011

My review of part of Nigel Warburten's "A Little History of Philosophy" (on Amazon)

The author, a secularist, does not bother to treat philosophical arguments for God's existence seriously. For example, he lauds Bertrand Russell's attack on the cosmological argument (p. 185) when, in fact, Russell created a straw man. In "Why I am Not a Christian," Russell says that cosmological arguments all fail because they depend on this premise:

P1: Everything that exists has a cause

Or order to reach this conclusion along with one more premise:

P2: The universe exists.
C1: Therefore, the universe has a cause (God)

But Russell claims that C1 (God) would be subject to P1. God would require a cause for God's existence. If so, the argument fails.

This is absurd because I have never read a version of the cosmological argument (in 35 years of studying and teaching and writing about philosophy of religion) that used this argument premise. Of course, P1 will defeat a cosmological argument, but no one uses it!

For example, the kalam cosmological argument reasons this way:

P1: What every begins to exist, has a cause of its existence.
P2: The universe began to exist.
C1: Therefore, the universe has a cause (God).

Notice that the kalam's P1 differs radically from Russell's version: "Everything that exists has a cause." God, of course, did not (by definition) begin to exist, so is not subject requiring a beginning cause for God's existence. In order words, there is no reductio ad absurdum. Neither do the Thomistic or the Lebinizian cosmological arguments rely on Russell's manufactured premise.

One could go on about the cosmological argument (I devote 30 pages to it in my book, Christian Apologetics), but suffice to say that this book does not bother to critique the argument at its best, only at its worst.

That is a very bad sign indeed, but I find that many British secular philosophers are often dismissive of philosophical theism. Shame on them.


Steve Schuler said...

While it may be true that God, by definition, did not begin to exist, the God that you promote (known as YAWEH, YHWH, EHYE, YH, ADoNaY, EL, ELOH, ELoHIM, SHADAY, and TZVAOT) did begin to exist in about 1000 BCE. At least according to most secular and religious scholars.

P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

P2: Yahew began to exist.

C1: Yaweh has a cause. (Human imagination)


P1: God, by definition, did not begin to exist.

P2: Yaweh began to exist.

C1: Yaweh is not God.

Of course the question as to whether the 'cause' of the Universe in any cosmological argument should be referred to as the "First Cause" or "Unmoved Mover" or some other term, provides semantic distinctions that make it more difficult to make a logical case for any particular god. After all, there are so many gods to choose from.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


1. My argument has nothing to do with when people first wrote about God. It has to do with the best explanation for the origination of the universe.

2. Further, why think that if person S is the first person to write about P, that P came into existence at that point? Aristotle was probably the first to write about the law of noncontradiciton, but it certainly existed before then. Moreover, Copernicus got heliocentrism right, but did not invent the sun being at the center. And so on.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

More yet, I address the idea that God is the result of human imagination in chapter sixteen of Christian Apologetics.

Steve Schuler said...


I do not profess to know whether or not a God, or a First Cause, actually exists. I do believe that the God of Abraham, historically embraced by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, was first conceived in about 1000 BCE, as far as we know. I use "God" to identify a category of being, not as a title, and "Yaweh" as a specific historically anchored example of a "God". While I doubt, to the point of disbelief, in any of the vast multiplicity of conceptions of God that many people currently hold to be true, that is not to say that I consider contemplating a First Cause to be entirely unwarranted and irrational as long as it is recognized to be purely a speculative endeavor. This is not unlike what I think some physicist do when considering the possibilty of a multiverse. In both cases they may be logically or mathematically possible, but both notions lack sufficient empirical evidence to convince me to accept them as truth. I find it more intellectually honest to accept not knowing, to accept the mystery of it all, than to accept as truth that which cannot be sufficiently substantiated no matter how comforting a notion it may be. Better to live with the discomfort of uncertainty and unknowing.

The best explanation of the origin of the universe is the explanation that is in accord with reality. Because an idea may be logically possible does in no way assure that it is accord with reality, that it is, in fact, true. I am sure that you are somewhat familiar with some of the many philosophical objections to the Kalam cosmological argument. People far beyond my own meager capabilities have dealt with this issue much more competently than I am able to. At any rate, whether the cosmological argument is valid or not, the point of my initial comment is that the God of Abraham is not necessarily the God of the syllogism.



Quintessential said...

The prof is right, Steve. You are confusing the subjects in your argument. If we were to take your argument seriously, it would be layed out as thus:
P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
P2: The "name" YHWH was first revealed to Moses. If we take this revelation as to mean the beginning of the use of the name YHWH, then the name first began to exist some time ago.
P3: Since the name YHWH began to exist, then the name had a cause.

My conclusion: YHWH did have a cause to reveal his name, so God might reveal himself to Moses as such. (Check out Romans chapter 1)

Steve Schuler said...

Hey there Quintessential!

I appreciate you taking the time to address this issue, thanks for your input.

I had submitted a second post to Doug prior to your post appearing that may have shed a little more light on what I was trying to communicate. It has not yet passed editorial review and been approved for publication. If it is published here and you would like to have further dialog I'm more than happy to oblige.

I'm a friendly agnostic and while I am not interested in proselytizing I don't mind sharing my thoughts with someone willing to talk.