Paul P. Mealing

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Monday, 14 November 2011

Trying to define God

This post arose from a lengthy discussion I had with Emanuel Rutten, who claims he has a ‘proof’, using modal logic, that God ‘necessarily exists’. The discussion started on Rust Belt Philosophy and then transferred to Rutten’s own blog. I’m naturally wary of anyone who claims they can prove God exists with nothing but logic, because it defies all epistemological sense. You can prove mathematical conjectures or solve puzzles using logic but everything else requires evidence.

For example, string theory is the latest contender for a so-called ‘theory of everything’ (really a theory of quantum gravity) which makes some extraordinary predictions, like the universe exists in 11 dimensions, of which all but 3 of space and 1 of time are ‘rolled up’ so as to be undetectable. Now, while no one challenges the mathematics behind the theory, no one claims it’s ‘necessarily true’ because there is no evidence to date to support it.

And, whilst I admit that Rutten is much cleverer than me, I think his proof is more sophistry than philosophy, and I’ve told him so on his own blog. Rutten’s argument should really be an argument about logic not religion. If his argument didn’t contain the word ‘God’, no one would give it a second thought and, certainly, no one would take it seriously. But because his argument in logic is an argument for the existence of God, it becomes a religious argument, especially since as a result of his own defence, it becomes clear that his ‘proof’ is critically dependent on how one defines God.

Rutten defines God as both ‘personal’ (meaning sentient) and ‘first cause’. Change this definition and his proof becomes one of negation instead of necessity. In particular, if one defines God as being non-sentient (but still first cause) then God goes from being necessarily existent to impossible to exist (according to Rutten’s own defence). The reason being that a sentient God ‘knows that God exists’ in ‘some possible world’ and a non-sentient God can’t possibly know. So the difference between God necessarily existing in all possible worlds (including ours) and impossibly non-existing is whether God knows that God exists (is sentient) or not. This is the corollary from the 2 conclusions of his own argument: one saying God must necessarily exist and one saying God can’t possibly exist, depending on how God is defined. Therefore God exists but only if God knows that God exists (is sentient). This is circular.

One of the reasons that no one has ever proved that God exists is because, by definition, God is immaterial and, according to most accounts, exists outside our universe. This means that God is not amenable to the scientific method. If God exists then he, she or it, only engages with the universe through the human brain, which is why God is totally subjective, just like colour. I’ve explained this before in an earlier post (God with no ego, May 2011). Colour is purely a psychological phenomenon that only exists in some creature’s mind, but it has an external cause, which is light reflected off objects. Now some may argue that the ‘experience’ of God may also have an external cause, but the difference is that colour can be tested (even for other species) whilst there is no test for God.

An essential part of Rutten’s argument is ‘first cause’, but so-called ‘personal first cause’ can only be found in mythology. As far as science goes, the only thing we can say about first cause is that it was a quantum phenomenon and quantum phenomena are amongst the greatest mysteries of the universe. I’ve written posts expounding on cosmological theories that contend the universe is ‘something from nothing’, including Alan Guth’s inflationary model, the Hartle-Hawking model and Roger Penrose’s cyclic universe. Paul Davies in his book, God and the New Physics, expounds on Alan Guth’s ‘free lunch scenario’, explaining that ‘….all you need are the laws [of nature] – the universe can take care of itself, including its own creation.’

And this seems to be the only pre-requisite for the universe to exist: that the laws of nature, that we understand through the universal language of mathematics, must be either imminent or necessarily entailed in the universe’s own birth. Without an intelligence like ours to comprehend them, nothing in the universe would even know they exist. This leads to the possible contemplation of the ‘anthropic principle’, but that’s a topic for a future post.

In Mar. 2009, I reviewed Mario Livio’s book, Is God a Mathematician? in which Livio suggests that the Pythagoreans would have said that God is the mathematics, and that probably makes more sense than the notion of personal first cause.

Mathematics fulfills 3 of the criteria we normally assign to God: infinity, truth and independent universality. Infinity only makes sense in mathematics and, in fact, is unavoidable at every level; mathematics is the only realm where infinity appears to be at home. Mathematical truths are arguably the only objective truths that are both universal and dependable. And mathematics gives the impression of a universal independence to human thought and possibly the universe itself.


Paul P. Mealing said...

I've added a small (3 word) revision to my post, pointing out that Rutten's argument is circular.

I hadn't included it previously because I thought it was obvious.

Regards, Paul.

Emanuel Rutten said...


That's not obvious at all. In fact, it's not true. I've noticed that in your post you didn't present the argument yourself before starting to comment on it. Now, the readers of your blog might benefit from an explanation of the argument and the subsequent discussions on and


Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Emanuel,

I'll let people make their own judgements. They can read both yours and my arguments on your blog and mine.

Regards, Paul.

Bert Morrien said...

A bit late, but I think the ''proof'' is seriously flawed.
It is easy to see that p is irrelevant, because either p or (not p) has no influence on the proposition 'There will always be some possibility that God exists'. Hence, the word 'For' in the argument is misleading. The phrase 'whatever the arguments against God' is irrelevant as well, because that is implied by using the word 'possible'.
If the irrelevant parts of the argument are removed, we have only 'There will always be some possibility that God exists, it follows that we can never truly say, on the Cartesian view, that we know that God does not exist.
Nobody will deny that, but to state that 'then it follows that it is necessarily true that God exists' is invalid, because
the reason for not being able to say truly that we know that God does not exist can only be the a priory assumption that God exists somewhere. If this assumption is not made, it is not necessarily true that God exists.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Bert,

Thanks for your comment. According to Wiki, they give the example: if it's not possible that it will not rain, then it must necessarily rain.

However, this obviously can't be applied to God. Rutten attempts to overcome this with his 'all possible worlds' scenario. I confess I can't see the leap of logic that allows Rutten to make his outlandish claim that only applies to God and no other fictional character. In my argument with him, he explains that the fictional characters don't 'create' the worlds whereas God does, hence the difference. But that argument only works if you assume that there is a 'creator', so I find it all a bit circular.

I have written elsewhere on this subject if you're interested, though I’m not anti-God per se.

Regards, Paul.