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Thursday, March 24, A.D. 2011
Criterial Argument for the Existence of God

Last week, Kristor forwarded an entry from Ultimate Object: “Criterial Argument for the Existence of God.” It briefly explains that God is implied in all rational thought. I think that such an observation must be obvious to any thinker not infected with the delusion of nominalism. For a unified complex universe, one needs a principle capable of unifying that complexity without reducing everything in it. Rational, observant analysis of the world therefore inevitably leads one to monotheism, just as denials of monotheism ultimately lead fools to relativism, clever fools to solipsism, and intelligent men to nihilism.

Kristor wrote:

In this short (and therefore dense, and somewhat challenging) entry, machinephilosophy sets forth his Criterial Argument for the Existence of God. The Argument explains why Darwinists and materialists can’t help using teleological language: teleology, final causation, the whole panoply of the eternal truths of math, logic, and metaphysics, and therefore implicitly God himself are


presupposed by thought as such, and thus also by its expression in language (I would add that if they are presupposed by being anywhere, they are presupposed by being everywhere; that’s part of what we mean when we call them necessary truths). This is the basis for the Socratic doctrine of anamnesis, set forth in the


: that when we reason about first principles (in math, logic, or metaphysics) we are expressing truths we already implicitly embody, and presuppose, by and in everything we say or do; so that, if we just think carefully about what we do indeed think, any of us can in principle discover any of the eternal truths.

Key sentence: “I don’t wake up in the morning wondering whether reason is going to be functioning, like I might wonder about my computer.” In order to live, we have

no alternative

but to presuppose that existence is rational, somehow, through and through; and that it is therefore in principle wholly intelligible, through and through. If these two presuppositions are groundless, then it is impossible in fact (whatever we might think) to explain or understand anything whatsoever, even a little bit.

Thus, as I have pointed out numerous times, if the atheists are right about God, then everybody is wrong about everything, because it is in that case not possible to be truthful. But this would mean that the atheists too are wrong about everything; and this would in turn mean that they are wrong in thinking that God does not exist. So God exists.

I wrote to Kristor:

Didn’t Lewis have a line for the general argument that the linked blog entry presents . . . that he believes that God exists as he believes the sun exists, not because he sees it, but because he sees everything else due to it?

What troubles me is how common it is for people to be blind to what seems obvious to us. The preponderance of human error often makes me question myself. I just don’t want to believe that so many people could be so wrong—perhaps I am wrong and the nihilists are right. But then I sober and realize how contradictory their position is. I call this move the “nihilistic temptation”—no matter how ridiculous and foolish it is, it continually reasserts itself to me. It must be an intellectual sin. I also think of the monstrous moral lapses in the history of man (consider abortion in America today, for example), and I remember how difficult the truth must be for our race. I wonder if such blindness affects different civilizations to different degrees. Eleventh century Frenchmen surely saw God in all things more easily than their descendents a millennium later, right?

To which Kristor responded:

Lewis did indeed say something like that, I think.

In the blindness of atheists there is I think something willful. They don’t


God to exist. They don’t want this to be that sort of universe. If God existed, that would entail all sorts of uncomfortable things, like chastity, or perfect honesty. If God does not exist, then their petty sins may go by the wayside, and they can go about the business of life, interested only in maximizing their profit on the deal, however they construe that profit.

Not so for Christians, or Jews. Or Muslims, for that matter. All three are totalistic religions.  But then, a religion that is not totalistic is not really a religion at all, but rather nothing more than a species of magic – a technique, and no more. This is I think why liberals so often accuse religions of being totalitarian. Liberals are afraid of religion, because true religion requires a repudiation of their worldly idols – and, so far as they can tell, of themselves.

As to the temptation of nihilism, I feel it, too. But is not this the same thing as to say simply that I feel temptation? Temptation to any sin, however trivial, is a temptation to some turn or other toward nothingness. Followed persistently, all sins lead ultimately to the outer darkness.

Nihilism is tempting because in eliminating all good it ipso facto eliminates all shame and guilt at our persistent failures to achieve the good. It gets us off the hook by insisting that there is no hook. So it is a fantastic relief.

It is the nihilists, I have long thought, who are most ripe for conversion. They have fully understood the existential stakes, and in their ignorance of the truth about the alternative – willful or not – they have consciously chosen death. Indeed, they have embraced death. So, naturally enough, they are in agony. This is why, in my apologetical responses to them, I generally take a moment to ask: given the fact that you believe nothing really matters, why are you so


about theism?

Kristor’s comment about willful atheism recalls Maverick Philosopher’s post, “Nagel on Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion.” I confess that I just cannot understand it, having been raised in a theistic home and community. My loss of faith was extremely painful and troubling to me, and my years of agnosticism regarding Christianity, ever somewhat lingering, have never been desired by any part of my soul. I cannot empathize with anyone who desires the illusion of nihilistic chaos. I suspect that such folks do not want nihilism in itself, thinking instead that the world of their satisfactions and pleasures is self evident and self grounded.  Yet, these men are philosophers! It is their chief vocation to hunt down every assumption and underlying principle, to investigate the very nature that loves to hide. That such people would willfully accept facts without questioning their ground lowers them. Men like Quine and Searle cannot be dismissed as bovine; why, then, do they accept the shadows for the sun?

Update: Alan R. adds:

His position is basically what Reformed presuppositional apologists call the Transcendental Agrument for God: All thought requires as a presupposition a God who makes reality to obey laws of logic that we can know and use, therefore even if you argue against God, you presuppose Him and contradict your position.

I especially appreciate his line:

Therefore, there is some sense in which these ultimate decisive rules and ideals of thought actually communicate knowledge and even wisdom by merely thinking about them and their relationship to our belief systems and our world of objects.

In other words, comtemplating God and His Word makes one wise, especially wise unto salvation.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 24, A.D. 2011
Philosophy | EpistemologyMetaphysicsPermalink

Thank you for the kind mention of my Criterial Argument. I have in fact subjected it to a month-long round of criticism by atheists and agnostics at the Open Forum over at, and will soon publish a new version on, reflecting these criticisms. I believe the argument is successful, avoids a number of problems that plague other arguments, and is far easier for common people to understand.

Posted by machinephilosophy from Denver on Sunday, April 3, A.D. 2011

Dear Joseph,

Reading this + a lot of Ed Feser lately, I think if you could convince me that the universe is rational and intelligible, then you could convince me that God exists and Aristotelo-Thomist theology is essentially right, because the rest more or less follows from it. But this is precisely the one I thing I disagree with (and hence stay atheist for the momen).

Just why exactly should the universe be intelligible or rational? It should only be so if we somehow assume that our thoughts are in some “ultimate” sense true. That ultimate truth exists. That there can be a map that perfectly describes the terrain, that there can be a perfect model of the universe, that the universe is made of… words.

But why should we believe in such a thing? A limited understanding and a limited explanation of things is perfectly possible without it.

I am thinking about the operationalist worldview which is more or less the standard philosophy of science these days: truth equals prediction. A statement or rather a model is true so far that it is capable of predicting some kind of experience, and no model is perfect, hence no model is fully, absolutely true, they have merely more truth content or less truth content.

From the operationalist view, our minds, thoughts, words, models, understanding, reasoning is capable of predicting some amount of experience sometimes. Reason sometimes works. Why exactly we don’t know, as the why itself is a part of science hence the why must also be a predictive statement and here things can get tricky, but we can live without knowing why. We can simply live so that we know that for whatever reason our minds just happen to be so that they are capable of some partial understanding of the universe i.e. more or less accurately predict this or that, but not perfectly, not ultimately, not on the level of generating ultimate, perfect truths that survive reality checks from here to infinity.

Perhaps we should not even use the word truth or falsehood, right or wrong in the operationalist logic, we should just say more useful models or less useful models.

(Of course very often doubt reason works. Very often our very logical ideas fail to survive a reality check.)

So to sum it up, for example: the statement “dolphins are mammals” is not ultimately true, and it represents not some kind final understanding, not a matter of right or wrong, but is mere a useful model for predicting what we will experience when we observe dolphins mating and reproducing.

I am not sure I agree with what I wrote fully, I kind of sense it in my bones that truth must mean something deeper than this, but this is the modern view of science and I haven’t seen any really good arguments against it.

What is your argument against it?

Posted by Miklos from Austria and Hungary on Friday, August 10, A.D. 2012

Dear Miklos,

As I am traveling this month, I cannot answer your questions adequately. I have, however, written about similar topics in the past. See, for instance, “The Necessity of Knowledge,” which includes the following criticism of nominalism:

For nominalism at its core denies the intelligibility of the world and the ability of man to know it. As mentioned above, the first nominalists and their philosophical successors attempted to salvage aspects of the world’s knowability and of the human mind’s powers. Yet, they were all insufficient to the task; once you make a part of the world necessarily unintelligible, you render the whole unintelligible. For a particular man might be ignorant of many things and still claim knowledge of other things. However, if you state that the world as such is unintelligible in certain aspects, you begin a destructive process of misology. For the claim that some part of the world is intelligible while another part is not is a claim about the world as a whole. For that claim to stand, it undoes the unintelligibility of the part about which it claims to know (that it is unknowable). An instability is thus built into nominalism, and it is simply human rationality at work when such a system self-destructs—its logical conclusion is an impossibility.

To use any model of the world in the expectation that it will help you predict certain phenomena presupposes a wholly intelligible world. That is not the same as an exhaustively known world (to us), of course. No one claims that he has all the answers, but one must be open to there being answers in order to ask a question sincerely.

You may also be interested in “Maverick Retortion,” where I address a criticism of the previous arguments. Make sure to read my friend Andrew’s comment, which I find well reasoned.

I wish you the best in your journey.

Posted by Joseph from Arimathea on Saturday, August 11, A.D. 2012

“Just why exactly should the universe be intelligible or rational?”

The question itself assumes intelligibility and rationality of the universe, in requesting reasons for the entire universe’s intelligibility and rationality. The same point applies to the denial of the universe’s intelligibility and rationality. Is the question or denial concerning the entire universe *itself* intelligible and rational?

Moreover, to know that “a limited understanding and a limited explanation of things is perfectly possible without it,” requires the same universe-wide intelligibility and rationality in order to argue the equally universal qualification statement about things generally.

Posted by machinephilosophy from Denver on Saturday, August 11, A.D. 2012

“truth equals prediction. A statement or rather a model is true so far that it is capable of predicting some kind of experience, and no model is perfect, hence no model is fully, absolutely true, they have merely more truth content or less truth content.”

What do these statements *themselves* predict?

Posted by machinephilosophy from Denver on Saturday, August 11, A.D. 2012

>What do these statements *themselves* predict?

Perhaps nothing but it is not a problem because if the world is not intelligible, no statements have to be 100% correct all the time, so you can just interpret it with “mostly/usually” prefixed…

Why? I think it is known as a “Nietzsche test” but it is only valid as long as we are dealing with universally, ultimately, absolutely valid true or false statements while I am not?

Posted by Miklos on Monday, August 13, A.D. 2012

“if the world is not intelligible, no statements have to be 100% correct all the time, so you can just interpret it with “mostly/usually” prefixed…

Why? I think it is known as a “Nietzsche test” but it is only valid as long as we are dealing with universally, ultimately, absolutely valid true or false statements while I am not?”

The universe’s not being intelligible would eliminate the possibility of if-then conditionals.

Plus the universally quantified “no statements” denial is self-contradictory. Are 100% of statements not required to be 100% correct 100% of the time? If so, how do you ever get to predicate that universal qualification (“100%”) without self-contradiction and arbitrary self-exemption?

Posted by machinephilosophy from Denver on Tuesday, August 14, A.D. 2012
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