Neill Shenton recently did a review/response to one of Doug Beaumont’s arguments for the existence of God. Doug’s argument is the ususal Thomastic cosmological argument from contingency. At this point I’ll assume that you’ve read the two posts so you’ve got a greater context for what follows.
This is an argument that keeps coming up & folk tweet responses but my thoughts don’t fit in a tweet so here’s my ramblings on the topic.
I see this as a rather futile attempt to “prove” there is a god by a logic that depends upon definitions of the terms. The key words here are ‘being’ and, not surprisingly, ‘god’. If we substitute these words the futility is exposed.
1. A widget exists
2. Widgets cannot spontaneously come into existence, they have to be “made” by something that came beforehand.
3. If our widget was made by or evolved from another, and so on, where did the first widget come from?
4. Some none-widget-like-process made the first widget
5. I’m calling that “f’narg”
6. What do we know about F’narg? Nothing except it isn’t a widget by definition. Is it god? You could call it that, I’ll stick to f’narg; it has NO connotations. So, we now know exactly what we already did, all this widgety universe started with something and now it has a name, f’narg
What Shenton is doing here is that he’s completely ignoring the modal status of the terms ‘contingent’ and ‘necessary’ in the original Thomistic argument. This isn’t that big of a deal but for him to completely dismiss it isn’t critiquing the argument on its own grounds. He’s changing the argument (straw man). P3 is obviously a misunderstanding of the argument. He’s conflating Thomas’ hierarchicial in esse causation with temporal causation as with kalam. So why think 3 is a valid premise on Shenton’s own terms? Well, I don’t think there is a reason because of the ambiguity of the terms and the conflation of temporal processes and hierachical/transitive causation. When we say that there cannot be an infinite regress of in esse causation (contingencies) we have to contrast that with something that is non-contingent. This is why the modal relationship is important here. In P6 Shenton says that there are no connotations between widget and f’narg. Well, that’s precicsely why we should cast doubt on P4 and P5. What is the relationship between these two terms? The argument fails on its own grounds because of a lack of definition between the terms. One cannot have a modal argument without having the modal connections in terms. To offer a counter-argument like this to demonstrate the absurdity of the argument doesn’t work because modal terms are not interchangeable with non-modal terms while preserving the argument. Once one changes the modal status of the terms it’s a completely different argument.
Thus, there are two primary problems with this counter-argument.
- Removing the modal relationship of the terms ‘necessity’ and ‘contingent’ with terms that hold no modal status (or at least have not defined their modal status).
- Convolution P3 with temporal causation and transitive causation.