Monday, April 9, 2007

Something I Don't Recommend

Becoming the unexpected, de facto, on-site director of an M.A. extension program offered by an American seminary in a country like Ukraine, just as it is starting out, hasn't allow this blogger the time desired and/or necessary for weekly posting. The good thing is that now I have a whole bunch of thoughts and stories to blog about so, here goes …

A few weeks back, I was preparing a lecture on the cosmological argument for God's existence. Reading Stephen T. Davis' God, Reason & Theistic Proofs I came across the following syllogism (the numeration has been changed to make sense outside of the context of the chapter in which it is written):

1. Every existing being is either a NB or a CB (every existing thing is either contingent or not)
2. All existing CBs have HCs
3. All CBs are such that they exist at any given time t only if all their HCs also exist at t
4. All CBs are such that at some time they fail to exist, and one of the times they fail to exist is before they exist
5. There is no first moment of time
6. All existing beings are CBs
7. A given CB, namely, x, exists now
8. All of x's HCs exist now (3, 7)
9. A given HC of x, namely, y, has existed for an infinite time (2, 3, 5, 8)
10. y is a CB (6)
11. All CBs begin to exist at some point in time (4, 5)
12. At some past point in time y began to exist (10, 11)
13. At some past point in time y did not exist (12, 5)
14. y has not existed for an infinite time (13)
15. y has both existed for an infinite time and has not existed for an infinite time (9, 14)
16. (10) and (6) are false (10, 6, 15, RAA)
17. Therefore, y is a NB (1, 16)
18. Therefore, at least one NB exists (17)

Here's some notes to help make sense of the above argument, if you're interested:
-CB = contingent being
-NB = necessary Being
-HC = hierarchical cause
-RAA = reductio ad absurdum
-1 through 5 are assumptions
-6 is a premise that the cosmological argument disproves
-7 is a premise known a posteriori
-15, being logically inconsistent, requires that we find the problem premises somewhere above it
-6 is the most likely candidate

This form of the cosmological argument is obviously much too complicated for an introductory course in apologetics, so I wasn't planning on teaching it. But I did try my best to grasp it so that I would be able to follow Davis' full argument. The problem was that I was working through this at about 1:30 a.m. Usually, working this late isn't a problem for me. However, it turns out that working through syllogisms that late at night, right before bed, wreaks havoc on my ability to sleep well when, strangely, nothing else intellectual has such a power over me. Between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. I woke up four times, each time because of a nightmare involving some crisis that could only be solved by a syllogism. The one situation that I can still vaguely remember is one in which my wife and child were in danger as I frantically tried to compose the syllogism — that was both sound and valid, of course — that would deliver them. Ridiculous! I woke up from one of these dilemmas at 5:45 a.m., happy that I would at least be able to sleep peacefully for those final, precious 15 minutes. Wrong-o buddy bean! 5:55 a.m. had me sweaty, heart-racing and frantic from yet another solvable-by-syllogism-only scare.

So, while I whole-heartedly recommend Davis' book as an understandable, well-argued and levelheaded treatment of the theistic arguments for God's existence, I don't recommend it as bedtime reading. That is, of course, unless you prefer to have logic's dark side torment you as you sleep.

1 comment:

Mark McD said...

Interesting post. Crazy nightmares. It seems like a rigorous argument, but I have always had trouble conceding the necessity of the premises. I have always felt like arguments like this make the conclusion possible, but not required because the premises are defined in such a way as not to allow for all the nuances of the real world. Is it really possible to divide up everything in creation as either a necessary being or a contingent being? What if things just are?