On Formal Proofs For/Against God

[Updated 2/28/2021]

Over on Ed Feser's
blog, is another attempt, in a never-ending series of attempts, to formally prove the existence of God. [1] I was playing devil's advocate by taking the position that the answer to Feser's question is a resounding "no" by providing counter-arguments to their arguments. [2] [3]

"Talmid" made
the statement:

You can defend that the arguments fail...

This is where the light came on.

Nobody would say of the proof of the Pythagorean theorem, or of the non-existence of a largest prime number, that "the arguments fail." That isn't how proofs work. If a proof fails, it's because of one of two reasons. Either a premise is denied, or there is a mistake in the mechanical procedure of constructing the proof. When you read these proofs of God's existence (or non-existence), at some point you come to a step in the proof where it looks like the next logical step was taken by coin-flip, instead of logical necessity. This is evidence of the presence of an unstated premise.

Find the unstated premises. Don't let your common sense get in the way. [4] If the argument assumes that things have a beginning, question it. Why must history be linear and not, say, circular? Why can't something come from nothing? That may defy common sense, but it's still an assumption.

Now, suppose that in an argument for or against God that there are five premises. If the premises are independent of each other (and they should be, otherwise one of them isn't a premise), and each premise has a 50-50 chance of being correct, then the proof has a one in thirty-two chance of being correct. Those aren't great odds.

An immediate response to this would be, "but Euclidean geometry has five premises, and it's correct! So why not an argument for/against God with the same number of premises?" The answer is simple. We can measure the results of Euclidean geometry with a ruler and a protractor. While it's against the rules to construct something in Euclidean geometry with anything other than a straightedge and a compass, it isn't against the rules to check the result with measuring devices. And for non-Euclidean geometry, which is used in Relativity, we can measure it against the curvature of light around stars and the gravitational waves produced by merging black holes.

But we can't measure God, at least the non-physical God as God is normally conceived.

If that's the case, then it doesn't make sense to argue for/against the existence of God by any means other than "assume God does/does not exist". That gives a one in two chance of being right, as opposed to one in four, one in eight, ... one in 2^(number of premises).

If the premise "God does/does not exist" leads to a contradiction then, assuming the principle of (non)contradiction, the premise is falsified. I suspect, but cannot prove, that both systems are logically consistent. If this is so, then the search for God by formal argument is futile.


It seems to me that if the search for God by formal argument is futile, then the choice of axiom - God does/does not exist - is a logically free choice. And if it's a choice that you are not logically compelled to make, then it comes down to desire. [5]

Can a Thomist Reason to God a priori?
[2] Commenting as "wrf3".
[3] I've informally taken this position
here, here, here, and here.
[4] One unstated premise is ususally, "common sense is a reliable guide to true explanations." It isn't. Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics, defy "common sense". Quantum Mechanics, for example, uses
negative probabilities in the equations of quantum behavior. What's a negative probability? What's a "-20% chance of rain"? Yet we are forced by experiment to describe Nature this way.
[5] For the desire to be fulfilled, God must then fulfill it. You can't tickle yourself. If you want to experience tickling, you must be tickled by someone else. If you want to experience God, then God must reveal Himself.


Electric Charge and the Laws of Thought

In one of the interminable discussions on whether or not we can prove the existence of God through reason (we can't), I made the claim that the behavior of electric charge is identical to the laws of thought. This table summarizes the relationship:

1IdentityLike charges repel, opposite charges attract
2Non-contradictionPositive charge is not negative charge
3Excluded MiddleCharge is either positive or negative


On Romans 7:7 and 2:14-15

There appears to be a contradiction between what Paul says about how Gentiles know sin and how he knows sin. Concerning Gentiles, in Romans 2:14-15, Paul writes:

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them...

That is, Gentiles have an intrinsic, if imperfect, knowledge of what God's law requires. In this verse in the original Greek, notice how Paul switches between "a law" and "the law," i.e. the Mosaic Law.

But in chapter 7, Paul says that he would not have known what sin was if the Mosaic Law hadn't told him:

What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

That's surprising. Shouldn't Jews have at least the same basic knowledge of right and wrong, just like Gentiles?

I pondered this on and off for months, getting nowhere. During a discussion last week, someone made a statement similar to Paul's: "I wouldn't know adultery was wrong unless the Mosaic Law told me." And the answer fell into place. "Then you don't know what love is," I replied, "because love does no harm to a neighbor, and your spouse is your closest neighbor."

I think the resolution to the dilemma between verses 2:14-15 and 7:7 is that Paul is letting on that he was a hard, loveless man prior to the Damascus Road. And because he had no love, he needed the Law to show him how to live in his society. That makes the love passage in 1 Cor. 13 even more impressive, as it would then have come solely from his Damascus change, where he came under the New Covenant and God replaced his "heart of stone" with a "heart of flesh".

[1] For an example of this, see
Another Short Conversation.

2020 Reading List

1The Parables of GraceRobert Farrar Capon
2The Puppet MastersRobert A. Heinlein
3Christianity and LiberalismJ. Gresham Machen
4The Witches of KarresJames H. Schmitz
5The Twelfth VictimLinda M. Battisti & John Stevens Berry, Sr.
6Street Level RomansMichael Baer
7Creation Myths: Revised EditionMarie-Louise Von Franz
8Breakfast At Tiffany'sTruman Capote
9The Teaching of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church Geerhardus Vos
10The Dispossessed Ursula K. LeGuin
11The God Delusion Debate (Transcript) Richard Dawkins & John Lennox
12The Computer and the BrainJohn Von Neumann
13Divine MisfortuneA. Lee. Martinez
14The UnknowableGregory J. Chaitin
15Warren-Flew Debate On The Existence of GodThomas B. Warren & Antony G. Flew
16Agile ConversationsSquirrel & Fredrick
17The Divine DanceRichard Rohr & Mike Morrell
18The Letter to the RomansWilliam Barclay
19Natural TheologyJean Rioux
20Jesus and the Forces of DeathMatthew Thiessen
21Paul: A New Covenant JewPitre, Barber, Kincaid
22The Prodigal GodTimothy Keller
23The Emperor's New MindRoger Penrose
24Worlds of Exile and IllusionUrsula K. LeGuin
25Recovering from Biblical Manhood and WomanhoodAimee Byrd
26The Parasitic MindGad Saad
27Uniform DecisionsJohn Caprarelli
28But What If We're WrongChuck Klosterman
29The R. A. Lafferty Fantastic MegaPackR. A. Lafferty
30The Golden ApplesEudora Welty
31StardanceSpider & Jeanne Robinson


The Parables of Exclusion

There are a number of stories of exclusion that Jesus told.

The "Wise and Foolish Virgins" (Matthew 25:1-13), "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:21-23), "The Rich Man" (Mark 10:17-22).

We normally take these stories to mean that there comes a time when the door will be shut, the party will begin, those who are inside will rejoice. And while that is true, I'm no longer sure that that's what Jesus is really saying.

I don't remember all of the details, but in Men's Bible Study a few weeks ago the question was asked, "what would you do if Jesus said to you, 'I never knew you?'" The first answer was, "Nothing. There's nothing you can do."

I had an epiphany and said, "On the contrary. I would say to Him, 'In November, 1978, at two in the morning, you called me and I have followed ever since. You invited me to this party. Now, it's your party, but if you want me to leave you're going to have to summon your bouncers."

In the same way, the "foolish" virgins should either have followed those who had lamps, or returned to the party once they had gotten more oil and pounded on the door until someone opened, even if it was the next day. It isn't as if that party will end.

I think we need to read these stories in light of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter (Mt 15:21-28). She didn't give up, she didn't let go.

In the single-minded pursuit of God, you mustn't quit.