I know I promised not to post on theologian Alvin Plantinga again, but I had to inflict his lucubrations on you one more time. In short, they’re so infuriating, so in violation of the normal canons of reason, that I have to put them on public display. If for no other reason, read the following to see what passes for sophisticated philosophy in theology. And if you read it, I’ll put up some humor as a reward.
Here, in a chapter called “Necessary being” from The Analytic Theist (a collection of Plantinga’s “best” that I cited yesterday), is Plantinga’s argument for why God is a “necessary being”, i.e. has to exist. Plantinga is very clever in his arguments: he never out and says that he is proving God’s existence, but merely showing how it is rational to believe in God. Of course, the faithful think that proving God is exactly what he’s doing, and I’m sure he thinks he is, at least to himself, for Plantinga buys the whole schmear of Christian mythology.
His other tactic, which is equally annoying, is to vet a “truth” about God by saying that “Christians have long believed that. . ” or “Aquinas proposed that. . “, and then running with the proposal as if it were true, subtly transitioning from what theists have thought to what is real. That is not of course evidence (e.g., take “Men have long thought that women were intellectually inferior. . ), but somehow Plantinga transmogrifies what people have believed into something that must be taken seriously on that account.
But I digress. In this excerpt from Plantinga’s edited book Faith and Philosophy: Philosophical Studies in Religion and Ethics (1964, Eerdmans Publishing Co.), most of which you can read here, he defends the view that God is a “necessary being.” By necessary being, he means this: the denial of God is inconceivable. That is, God cannot fail to exist.
How does he show this? It’s simply a tricked-up version of the Cosmological Argument: everything that exists is contingent—that is, dependent on some other circumstance—except, of course, for God., who’s defined as the ultimate cause. I have read this chapter three times, and I can’t see any difference between Plantinga’s argument and the “First Cause” argument, except that his is couched in fancy words and stuff that looks like logic.
I won’t go into this in detail, because most of us know the refutations of the First Cause argument, but I want to show you how Plantinga argues that God’s nonexistence is impossible. Wrap your mind around this prose (make sure you have coffee first):
When the theist, therefore, asserts that God is the necessary being, we may construe his remark in the following way. He is pointing out that we cannot sensibly ask, “Why is it that God exists?” And he is holding that some assertion about God is the final answer in the series of questions and answer we have been considering.
Next, we should note that the question “Why does God exist?” never does, in fact arise. [JAC: OMG! We've all asked that!] Those who do not believe that God exists will not, of course, ask why He exists. But neither do believers ask that question. Outside of theism, so to speak, the question is nonsensical, and inside of theism, the question is never asked. But it is not that the religious person fails to ask why God exists through inadvertence or because of lack of interest. There may be many beings about which the question “Why do they exist?” is never in fact asked; and not all such beings are necessary in the sense in question. “Why does God exist?” is never in fact asked (either by religious or non-religious people) because it is a bogus quetion. If a believer were asked why God exists, he might take it as a request for his reasons for believing in God; but if it is agreed that God exists, then it is less than sensible to ask why He does. And the explanation is not hard to find. Essential to theism is an assertion to the effect that there is a connection between God and all other beings, a connection in virtue of which these others are causally dependent upon God. And this proposition is analytic [JAC: according to Plantinga, a proposition is "analytic" if its denial is self-contradictory]; it is part of the Hebraic-Christian concept of God the He is “Maker of heaven and earth.” But it is also a necessary truth that if God exists, He is Himself uncreated and in no way causally dependent upon anything else. God is a causally necessary condition of the existence of anything else, whereas His existence has no necessary conditions. Now the absence of a necessary condition of the existence of anything is a sufficient condition of the nonexistence of that thing; and if a being has no causally necessary conditions, that its existence has no causally sufficient conditions. And hence if God does exist, His going out of existence could have no causally sufficient conditions and is therefore causally impossible. If God has no necessary conditions, then it is analytic that His going out of existence, if it occurred, would be an uncaused event [JAC: Couldn't God, if he's omnipotent, commit divine suicide?]; for it is analytic that there can be no causally sufficient conditions of its occurrence. Similarly, His beginning to exist is causally impossible [JAC: that's by definition, of course], for since it is analytic that God is not dependent upon anything, He has no cause; and hence His coming into existence would be an event which could have no causally sufficient conditions. So if God does exist, He cannot cease to exist; nor could He have begun to exist.
Now it becomes clear that it is absurd to ask why God exists. To ask that question is to presuppose that God does exist; but it is a necessary truth that if He has no cause, then there is no answer to a question asking for His causal conditions. The question “Why does God exist” is, therfore, an absurdity.
What dreadful stuff! It’s true only if you define God as being the one thing in the Universe that has no cause, i.e., the First Cause. You could say exactly the same thing, but substituting the word “Universe” for “God” in all the above. For, as we know, the Universe could have “caused” itself.
You get the “Theology” merit badge for having waded through this and the previous two days of Plantinga. And, as a special treat, you get to see him expound this drivel in a VIDEO!