Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Argument for God: The World as an Interacting Whole

I happened to hear about a fantastic book that I immediately ran out and purchased which is written by two brilliant professors who teach philosophy of religion at Boston College.  (Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli)  The book is entitled “Handbook of Catholic Apologetics”.  I have a long way to go still in my reading of it, but have thus far been thoroughly engrossed by their well-written and strongly presented arguments throughout the book.  In the second chapter of the book, the authors give twenty different arguments for the existence of God.  They are all very well-reasoned and logical in their presentation.  I thought I would share one of these gems with my few readers accordingly to see what you all thought about their logic.  Enjoy:

Norris Clarke, who taught metaphysic and philosophy of religion for many years at Fordham, has presented in The One and the Many an intriguing version of the design argument.  We present it here, slightly abridged and revised, for your reflection.

Starting Point.  This world is given to us as a dynamic, ordered system of many active component elements. Their natures (natural properties) are ordered to interact with each other in stable, reciprocal relationships that we call physical laws.  For example, every hydrogen atom in our universe is ordered to combine with every oxygen atom in the proportion of 2:1 (which implies that every oxygen atom is reciprocally ordered to combine with every hydrogen atom in the proportion of 1:2).  So it is with the chemical valences of all of the basic elements.  So too all particles with mass are ordered to move toward every other according to the fixed proportions of the law of gravity.

In such an interconnected, interlocking, dynamic system, the active nature of each component is defined by its relation with others and so presupposes the others for its own intelligibility and ability to act.  Contemporary science reveals to us that our world-system is not merely an aggregate of many separate, unrelated laws but rather a tightly interlocking whole, where relationship to the whole structures and determines the parts.  The parts can no longer be understood apart from the whole; its influence permeates them all. 

Argument.  In any such system as the above, (like our world) no component part or active element can be self-sufficient or self-explanatory.  For any part presupposes all the other parts—the whole system already in place – to match its own relational properties. It can’t act unless the others are there to interact reciprocally with it.  Any one part could be self-sufficient only if it were the cause of the whole rest of the system – which is impossible, since no part can act except in collaboration with the others. 

Nor can the system as a whole explain its own existence, since it is made up of the component parts and is not a separate being, on its own, independent of them.  So neither the parts nor the whole are self-sufficient; neither can explain the actual existence of this dynamically interactive system.

Three Conclusions

1.       Since the parts make sense only within the whole, and neither the whole nor the parts can explain their own existence, then such a system as our world requires a unifying efficient cause to posit it in existence as a unified whole.

2.       Any such cause must be an intelligent cause, one that brings the system into being according to a unifying idea.  For the unity of the whole – and of each one of the overarching, cosmic-wide, physical laws uniting elements under themselves – is what determines and correlates the parts.  Hence, it must be somehow actually present as an effective organizing factor.  But the unity, the wholeness, of the whole transcends any one part and therefore cannot be contained in any one part.  To be actually present all at once as a whole, this unity can only be the unity of an organizing unifying idea.  For only an idea can hold together many different elements at once without destroying or fusing their distinctness.  That is almost the definition of an idea.  Since the actual parts are spread out over space and time, the only way they can be together at once as an intelligible unity is within an idea.  Hence the system of the world as a whole must live first within the unity of an idea.  Now, a real idea cannot actually exist and be effectively operative save in a real mind, which has the creative power to bring such a system into real existence.  Hence the sufficient reason for our ordered world-system must ultimately be a creative ordering Mind.  A cosmic-wide order requires a cosmic-wide Orderer, which can only be a Mind.

3.       Such an ordering Mind must be independent of the system itself, that is, transcendent –not dependent on the system for its own existence and operation.  For if it were dependent on – or part of – the system, it would have to presuppose the latter as already existing in order to operate and would thus have to both precede and follow itself.  But this is absurd.  Hence it must exist and be able to operate prior to and independent of the system.  Thus our material universe necessarily requires, as the sufficient reason for its actual existence as an operating whole, a Transcendent Creative Mind.

And that transcendent creative mind is God.

3 comments:

John Myste said...

In any such system as the above, (like our world) no component part or active element can be self-sufficient or self-explanatory.

All things are affected by the forces that affect them.

For any part presupposes all the other parts—the whole system already in place – to match its own relational properties. It can’t act unless the others are there to interact reciprocally with it.

This does not imply any specific design or designer. It merely states that things act in accordance with those things that affect it, which would be true regardless of the origin of the universe.

Any one part could be self-sufficient only if it were the cause of the whole rest of the system – which is impossible, since no part can act except in collaboration with the others.

How is this an argument for the existence of God again?

Nor can the system as a whole explain its own existence, since it is made up of the component parts and is not a separate being, on its own, independent of them.

By that logic, a system as a whole could not explain its own change of any kind. If I get hungry and I was not hungry, since my hunger sensation was dependent on other chemical reactions in my body, it must be God putting it there. That things are affected by other things does not support the argument of a divine Being.

Since the parts make sense only within the whole, and neither the whole nor the parts can explain their own existence, then such a system as our world requires a unifying efficient cause to posit it in existence as a unified whole.

What constitutes a “unified whole” is arbitrary in this case. The parts of earthly existence need not be unified or whole. Again, nothing suggestive of a deity yet.

It seems the whole premise is that since the earth is a unified whole, it must have been designed. The premise is unproven and irrelevant and the conclusion is flawed, were it relevant.

I do not find these arguments compelling, sir.

T. Paine said...

Post: In any such system as the above, (like our world) no component part or active element can be self-sufficient or self-explanatory.

Myste: All things are affected by the forces that affect them.

T. Paine: How is your statement relevant to the sentence above it? It doesn’t address the fact that NO active element or component part in our world or universe is self-sufficient or its very existence to be self-explanatory.



Post: For any part presupposes all the other parts—the whole system already in place – to match its own relational properties. It can’t act unless the others are there to interact reciprocally with it.

Myste: This does not imply any specific design or designer. It merely states that things act in accordance with those things that affect it, which would be true regardless of the origin of the universe.

T. Paine: What?!?! How do you make that leap of faith? Again, your second sentence is true, but it misses the entire point of the statement you are attempting, and horribly failing, to rebut. The key there is that “any part presupposes all the other parts –the whole system already in place – to match its own relational properties.” How can any element presuppose the existence of any other part unless it was transcendent of the entire system itself, and thus somehow created itself in its own essence to be able to interact within that “whole system” accordingly? The answer is that it cannot. The only logical and plausible explanation is that every part was DESIGNED accordingly to interact with various other parts within the context of the various laws of nature. They were designed as a whole system prior to the very beginning of their existence.

T. Paine said...

Post: Any one part could be self-sufficient only if it were the cause of the whole rest of the system – which is impossible, since no part can act except in collaboration with the others.

Myste: How is this an argument for the existence of God again?

T. Paine: How can all of these myriads of parts (far more than three) come into being simultaneously or evolve to the point that they are now a part of unified whole, unless they were pre-supposed, (that is, designed to do so from the very beginning)? You would not have a useless part that would somehow evolve over eons to the point where it was then useful in conjunction with other parts merely by chance, and this process occurring quadrillions of times. When the odds of something occurring are so infinitesimally small as to approach zero, logic would dictate that it reaches the point of impossibility. This is especially true when it is not merely one “part” but nearly all active elements that comprise our known universe that meet this criterion.



Post: Nor can the system as a whole explain its own existence, since it is made up of the component parts and is not a separate being, on its own, independent of them.

Myste: By that logic, a system as a whole could not explain its own change of any kind. If I get hungry and I was not hungry, since my hunger sensation was dependent on other chemical reactions in my body, it must be God putting it there. That things are affected by other things does not support the argument of a divine Being.

T. Paine: Again, you are missing the point. Yes, our universe and our world are dynamic and changing. Change is not what is being argued here. It is our universe system that cannot explain its own existence. How did this system come into being with all of its so neatly interacting component parts guided by various laws of physics and quantum mechanics in and of itself? What was that initial cause of the big bang? And after that big bang, how did all of these neatly interacting parts blink into such ordered existence instantaneously and simultaneously interacting with each other, if not by some grand design?



Post: Since the parts make sense only within the whole, and neither the whole nor the parts can explain their own existence, then such a system as our world requires a unifying efficient cause to posit it in existence as a unified whole.

Myste: What constitutes a “unified whole” is arbitrary in this case. The parts of earthly existence need not be unified or whole. Again, nothing suggestive of a deity yet.

T. Paine: Arbitrary? All of existence is the unified whole of which we are speaking. Our universe. Think of this unified whole in the context of the butterfly effect. The fact that all of matter and energy should come into being in such an interactive way amongst its component elements in a very structured and ordered manner absolutely suggests a grand design, and thus a grand designer. That designer is God. Just say that you now understand, agree, and are consequently converting to Christianity so that I don’t have to pray for you quite as often, please. :)