Friday, 25 December 2015

Is the Qur'an really the "strongest" miracle?

The purpose of a miracle is to serve as a Divine signature- to serve as a proof that indeed a particular claim of revelation is genuine. This is why miracles need to be supernatural i.e. beyond the laws of nature, otherwise everyone could imitate them. As such, people would expect Divine miracles to be very grand in scale. They would have to violate the laws of nature so blatantly that all onlookers would be humbled and fall to their knees in worship. This basic intuition translates into an expectation people often have from truly Divine miracles- they would be large-scale, obvious, blatant, an enormity in the face of our everyday experience.

Now to an extent, that is certainly true. I wouldn't be very convinced of a religion if all the evidence it had going for it was the face of its prophet appearing on a potato chip. Even if that's a violation or suspension of the laws of nature, it hardly inspires awe. At a minimum, the miracle should be of such a scale so as to leave no room for doubt that it is a clear violation of the laws of nature.

At the same time though, is a display of power really the only criterion for judging whether a law-violating event is Divine? Let's think about it this way. If we expect the Creator and Lord of all living beings to give us a sign of His existence, how would it look? Clearly, it would have to be powerful, in that causing it would require bending of laws of nature. But I bet people will also have other expectations from this sign- it would have to be something beautiful, something deep, something truly meaningful, beneficial, and so on. So display of power is only one aspect of a good miracle, things like beauty, depth, meaning are also important. If God put up a lightshow in the desert sky as a sign, it would be awe-inspiring, sure, but I wonder how much depth and meaning it would possess.

There is something fascinating about the miracle of the Qur'an, in that it is God's revelation and miracle packed in one. Straight off the bat, we can sense that the miracle would be just as deep as the Divine message itself. The Qur'an is God's timeless counsel to all humanity, containing detailed spiritual, ethical, metaphysical, and legal knowledge that would be required for our life and optimal well-being. These Divine commands are expressed in a language that is not only beautiful and profound and subtle, but also law-defying and miraculous. So the miracle here mixes with the message- and at some points, it gets difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Is the revelation a receptacle for the miracle? Or is the miracle a receptacle for the revelation? That question is not easy to answer.

And yet, it goes deeper. According to theology, the word of the Qur'an is the very language of God. We often fail to realize how profound that is. As His final message, God- the Necessary, Ultimate reality of all else that exists- has chosen to speak in a human language, so we could hear and recite His own words verbatim. Every word of the Qur'an that we read is an expression of the intimate connection between the Creator and His creatures, every prayer of ours is, quite literally, a communion with God in the language of God. Mormon scholar Daniel Peterson in his article The Language of God: Understanding the Qur'an observes:

In Islam, by contrast, the "Word" is the Qur'an, the pure utterance of God himself, which human beings may themselves read and recite and of which, thereby, they may become co-articulators. Though few if any contemporary Muslims would agree to this, it is difficult to escape the sense that the reciter of the Qur'an, in a limited but important way, is unified with God in the utterance of God's own words. It is a kind of deification through speech.

I cannot conceive of a higher view of language.

Muslims, of course, would take exception to the sort of language the author uses, but the point about the intimacy between the reciter and the Creator is obvious. Perhaps another way of appreciating a miracle would be its effect on hearts and minds. Clearly, events happened in the history of time surrounding the Qur'an that are unparalleled in all of history. How it transformed and united the people of an entire peninsula, how it's memorized and recited by millions of people, how it has been preserved with no change for a millennium and a half- no book's impact was anywhere near that of the Qur'an. Perhaps these are not independent evidences of its Divinity, but these are things we would expect from a Divine miracle.

This is what is meant, I think, when it is said that the Qur'an is truly the strongest of all miracles. The strength of the miracle isn't to be gauged only by the number of laws it violates, and how spectacularly it does so, but also what that violation comes to signify. With the Qur'an where the message of God is the miracle, emanating directly in speech form from the Ultimate Reality, it is indeed the strongest expression of a Divine sign.

In this post, I haven't really been arguing for the fact that the Qur'an is miraculous, but rather for the proposition that assuming it is miraculous, it's exactly as we should expect from God. The other question of establishing the fact of Qur'anic miracles would require separate articles, essays, and/or tomes. On short notice though, here's an excerpt on the topic from a friend:

...virtually every ayah presents a linguistic problem (i.e. riddle). It seems like from the wording of the parts of an individual ayah to the structure of the surahs and then the Qur'an as a whole, every part of it is designed almost as if to provoke the question: why is it like this? Then when after due research and contemplation, the answer finally appears, it is like the key has been given to you to a door that had prior been locked. And every ayah is like this. And every surah. And the order of the surahs of the whole Qur'an. Then I felt like: what human being could have made something like this???

If trials in this world=rewards in the next, why shouldn't we expose ourselves to trials?

I believe the Islamic concept of life being a test is one of the most powerful concepts in philosophy of religion. It has a lot of ramifications in discussions concerning purpose/value of life, the problem of evil, Divine Hiddenness, and middle knowledge. Even outside the realm of philosophy, I believe it's an incredibly empowering concept in one's spiritual life. Understanding and developing this idea with philosophical rigor can be considered a valuable project in and of itself. One way of doing that is responding to objections. That leads to refinement of any model.

So let's talk about the problem in the post title. Islam teaches three important concepts when it comes to the trials in life:

1. Trials are necessary for character building, for helping us cultivate qualities like courage, patience, maturity, etc (and alternatively, to expose bad people for what they truly are),
2. Trials also expiate sins, and the hadith examples on the topic are legion (a keyword search generated this list)
3. For whatever trials and suffering we may face in this world, our patience in the face of these trials would be compensated for in the afterlife many times over.

The question is: if trial is so important and beneficial for the spiritual life of a Muslim, why should we not try to actively seek out trials? What is stopping us from inflicting pain on ourselves, leading unnecessarily harsh lives, not taking medicine when sick, and so on? Especially given the lucrative promise of rewards in the next life, people should be praying to God for calamities to strike them, no? And yet Islam explicitly asks us not to do any of the above. The believer is asked to pray for ease, not difficulty; for felicity in both this life and the next, not only in the next in expense of the present. The Prophetic practice was always to choose the easy route among otherwise equally beneficial options.

I know the question is easy to answer, and indeed Muslim scholars have written about calamities and the appropriate attitude to have about them. In her essay in Howard-Snyder edited The Evidential Problem of Evil, Eleonore Stump gave a really intuitive and illuminating response.

The basic idea is this. We know things like working out and medicine are good for us. However, too much working out leads to physical problems. But on what basis shall we decide what amount of working out is good and beneficial, and what amount is harmful? On the basis of expert prescription. Similarly, trials are indeed good for us, but too much of it is obviously bad, since too much of it may damage our body and spirit, and make us unable to fulfill duties owed to God and the people in the long term. Who decides exactly what amount of trial is good and bad?

This is where the concept of Divine prescription of trials comes into play. According to the Divine instructions regards trials and suffering (as found in Islamic scriptures)- we shouldn't ask for trials, rather, whenever we fall into trials, or see others suffering, we should always work to alleviate it. We should always pray for ease and not suffering. That's the Divine prescription. In spite of all of this, however, trials would inevitably afflict us, and we would not be able to reduce much of it even if we tried. The Divinely prescribed amount of trials is just the amount that is unavoidable in this sense. Whatever residue of trials remain in our lives after we have tried our best to get rid of it- is just the right amount of trials for us to have. If we go looking for more than this, we may end up pulling a spiritual muscle.

In short, although trial is good for us, it's only good for us in a certain amount, to a certain extent. The way to know that Goldilocks' amount is to rely on Divine prescription, which is to try and avert as much suffering as we can, but patiently try and endure whatever amount is inevitable and irreducible.

This view of trials strike me as very empowering. On one hand, it teaches us explicitly not to suffer in silence. To help ourselves and our fellow creatures whenever the opportunity presents itself. This is in tune with our "humanitarian" values and intuitions. On the other hand, it teaches us to not lose hope in the face of inevitable suffering, for it would be entirely positive and beneficial for us in the long run.

Strive for ease as much as you can, but think positively of whatever suffering you can't escape. Take it in stride and praise God. That's the recipe for a happy life (and afterlife).

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Common arguments for God's existence and their best defenders

Here's a list of the most common (and to my mind, the most persuasive) arguments for God's existence, and their single best defenders and their work.

1. Cosmological Argument(s)- Alexander Pruss, no doubt about it. This (very underrated) metaphysician has developed Leibniz's cosmological argument from contingency to terrifying detail. Each of the premises in his version of the argument gains their support from multiple contributing lines of evidence. Most impressive is his thorough, uncompromising defense of (some version of) the Principle of Sufficient Reason (basically a nuanced form of the causal principle- all things that can have causes do have causes), to which he has dedicated an entire book. To put this in perspective, William Rowe- one of the leading atheist philosophers of the current generation, famous for his 1979 formulation of the evidential argument from evil- said the only weakness of the cosmological argument is that the PSR isn't well-defended enough. I wonder if Rowe has read Pruss' book since then?

Pruss' long essay in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology deals with virtually all objections that can be thrown at the contingency argument, and- in my opinion- summarily disposes of them.

That's not all, however. He has a new book coming (co-authored with another illustrious defender of the cosmological argument, Joshua Rasmussen) entitled Necessary Existence where the authors argue for the existence of at least one Necessary existent concrete being. In addition, he has also started working on a book which debunks the claim that all contingent reality can be explained by a chain of contingent events extending infinitely back into the past. This, by the way, happens to be the key

I should also mention Emanuel Rutten's PhD thesis. This book deserves mention because the author takes on particularly difficult objections to the cosmological argument, and provides rather out-of-the-box solutions for them. His work incorporates a lot of insights gleaned from mereology, based mostly on Kathrin Koslicki's work. The perfect demonstration of the cosmological argument would emerge if it were possible to merge Rutten and Pruss' work into one beautiful, thorough, coherent thesis.

2. Fine-tuning argument- Robin Collins, very little doubt about it. What makes Robin Collins' work impressive is his uncompromising incorporation of both heavy-handed physics/cosmology as well as cutting-edge philosophical insights. His essay in the aforementioned Blackwell Companion is widely regarded as the best defense available for the fine-tuning argument. He calls this essay a "highly abridged" version of the much-awaited forthcoming book-length treatment of the argument. There was supposed to be one book, but he decided to write two books- the first one on how the fine-tuning evidence is better explained on theism compared to the single-universe hypothesis, the second one dedicated only to the multiverse hypothesis (here are some of his articles on both topics).

A significant feature to take note of is Collins is making a cumulative case design argument based on two discrete lines of evidence- the habitability of the universe, and the discoverability of it. In other words, his argument is not only that many of the universe's constants are fine-tuned for life, but also that many of its features are fine-tuned for us to do science. The universe is anthropically user-friendly. Does this seem reminiscent of the Qur'an's appeals to the sun, the moon, and the stars being created for, among other things, keeping track of time and knowing directions at night?

The only thing about his argument one can bat an eyelash at is the fact that his argument is inductive, as opposed to deductive. They adopt a variation of the "inference to the best explanation" scheme- by ruling out naturalistic single- or multi-universe hypotheses, the only real contender are theism, deism or axiarchism of some form. People who are more fond of deductive argument schemes may be a little perturbed by this. The only scholar that I know of to make a deductive argument mechanic to run the fine-tuning argument is William Dembski. William Lane Craig in his formulations of the fine-tuning argument seems to adopt his argument scheme. I haven't studied this scheme in much detail (I'm not a math person), but it definitely needs to be looked into. Perhaps one reason why it hasn't received serious philosophical attention is because it has been used in the defense of intelligent design arguments, something philosophers tend to steer clear of due to the embroiling controversy. Just as a trivia, Robin Collins is critical about the design inference scheme, but Dembski claims to have put his concerns to rest in his book No Free Lunch. I have read neither sides of this debate so can't really tell who's got the better side of the argument.

I think I should also mention Luke Barnes in connection to the fine-tuning argument. His treatment of the more common objections to the fine-tuning argument demonstrates an admirable level of clarity. People looking to get an introductory taste of the argument from fine-tuning is welcome to listen to this podcast episode. There might even be a book on the way...

3. Argument from religious experience- Just to be straight, this is not an argument for theism, or even deism. All this argument purports to show is that there is a supernatural realm beyond this sticks-and-stones physical reality (i.e. naturalism is false). I believe the best defense comes from Stephen Braude. As is the case with Robin Collins, his work is impressive because he incorporates insights from both parapsychological/paranormal investigations as well as stone-cold philosophy. This combination is unique when it comes to the paranormal, where the popular authors are more interested in throwing data out in the open without classifying, categorizing, or responsibly interpreting it. Braude's treatment of the topic is very, very careful and, as far as I can tell, philosophically airtight. I'm currently reading his book ESP and Psychokinesis: A Philosophical Examination, where he examines different kinds of paranormal phenomena and writes about their philosophical import. Another interesting book by the same author is Immortal Remains, which is a long, sustained argument for the reality of life after death. This interview is a nice brief introduction to his work.

4. Arguments from biological design- As I see it, there are lots of great material on the arguments from biological design, but they are scattered all over the place. Both books (Signature in the Cell and Darwin's Doubt) by Stephen Meyer are very well argued. There are also well-researched works that disprove the standard Neo-Darwinian narrative, e.g. the ones by James Shapiro and Marcello Barbieri). Papers in the Bio-complexity journal seem like really good material as well. What's lacking here is synthesis. There needs to be a concerted effort to synthesize all the myriad forms of biological design arguments, and defend this synthesized version with sufficient philosophical rigor. This synthesis also needs to work as a research program for biological design features, because new data about biological design just seems to accumulate. There needs to be a research scheme or structure to incorporate all this data. That, I think, is the major shortcoming (as well as the holy grail) as far as biological design arguments are concerned.

Honorable mentions-

- J. P. Moreland, the argument from consciousness

- I can think of quite a few other names, but I don't think they match the caliber of the scholars I've mentioned here.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Intelligent Design and the supernatural creation of Adam

I was wondering if intelligent design- understood as the research program which focuses on finding signs of design in (especially, but not exclusively) the biological realm- has any bearing on the "supernatural creation of Adam" hypothesis.

Just so we're clear- intelligent design doesn't necessary entail falsity of common descent. All it suggests is that creation of many aspects of biology was guided by a (presumably supernatural) intelligence. Put differently, ID entails (or at least makes it more plausible) that the creation process of earth's biology was peppered with miraculous interventions (or the system was set up/"front-loaded" in such a way so that it would develop designed features, a feat which I think is even more impressive than miraculous interventions). This proves that earth's biology was and is of much interest to supernatural agent(s).

Does this conclusion not make more plausible the hypothesis of Adam's supernatural creation? Since biology experienced a substantial amount of supernatural intervention/guidance, it's not that much of a stretch to say that the most significant event in the course of evolution- emergence of rationality, language, higher consciousness, among other things- probably involved miraculous intervention of some form or the other as well.

To put this reasoning into context, think about how the Qur'an uses the precedence of previous Prophets being equipped with miracles to argue for the miraculous nature of the Qur'an. The idea is- this trend of God sending miracle is nothing new, it happened before, and it's not very surprising that it's happening now. There's no reason to go out of the way and attribute it to magic, since Divine Intervention provides a tidy explanation for the Qur'an's supernatural language (on grounds that it happened before many times whenever prophets were sent). In the same way, we could argue that supernatural creation of Adam, even though it may seem like a more convoluted/complex way of explaining the data compared to common descent, isn't as implausible as initially appears because miraculous intervention/Divine guidance was pretty common in the origin and development of earthly biology.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Satan and God's fairness

I don't know how many people have this problem, but I've heard some people question the justification of God's punishment of Satan. According to the traditional narrative, Satan (then known as Iblis) was commanded to prostrate before Adam (peace be on him), but he refused. God punished this crime by banishing him from heaven. Some people think this punishment was over-the-top, for two main reasons- one, this command of God was unfair seeing Iblis worshiped God for so many eons, and yet God is apparently giving more honor to Adam. Two, the main reason why Satan refused to obey this command was out of jealousy for God's love. He couldn't withstand the fact that his beloved was supposedly honoring and loving someone else more than him, in spite of all of his efforts.
Let's address the second one first. As perceptive readers may have guessed, this whole psychoanalysis of Satan may be originate from non-Islamic (Christian?) concepts of who Iblis/Satan was, a fallen angel. The Qur'an makes no pretenses as to what Satan's motives were- it was disbelief (kufr), pride and racism (species-ism?). God knew beforehand what Satan's motives were, where his loyalties truly lay- and it was the manifestation of this hidden kufr/disbelief for which he was taken to task. Additionally, we don't see any complexity in the God-Satan discussion in the Qur'an. It was simply a matter of Satan saying "Adam was made from clay, I was made from fire, and I am better than him by virtue of my birth". This is as clear a demonstration of pride, arrogance and racism as things get. We don't see any discussion on Satan's supposed "love" for God. If it were that, not only would he not have been punished, wallahu 'alam- because God knows what our innermost thoughts are and His verdict on us is carried out on the basis our intentions, as opposed to our actions- but it's also plausible to think that God would have given him the benefit of doubt and answered his sincere questions. Why do I say that? Because almost this exact scenario played out between the angels and God not too far back before Satan's rejection of man. Angels too were confused and dumbfounded at God's decision to create Adam, and they questioned God regarding this apparently baffling decision. Did God banish the angels, or think their question/doubt was inappropriate? Not at all, but He answered their questions in the course of His creation of Adam. It's crystal clear that if Satan had any sincere doubt/question about this, his curiosity would have been satiated by God. But again, God punished Satan for his arrogance, disbelief and pride, not anything else. Here's Surah Al-A'raf, 7:12-
"[Allah] said, "What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?" [Satan] said, 'I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay.'"
Really, this is as clear cut and explicit as things get.
Now let's go back to the first question. The key source of this problem is when we try to imagine ourselves being in Satan's shoes, and then thinking how God's command would have made us feel. That's a fundamentally wrong approach to answering this question. We are not, nor could we ever be (not in this life at least), in the position to relate to the position or circumstances of Satan. We live our lives without ever seeing God, or even having any sort of a deep experiential knowledge of God- our life is bound strictly by the rules of this earth. The world often seems to be not make sense, we don't experience regular miracles, nor are we living at the times of the Prophets. Our circumstances themselves place us in a considerable distance from God and His experience. Add to that our sins and other sociological factors that distance us from God even more. None of us (or at least, very few of us) spend all or most of our time in worship. Our last names may be Muslim, but our life is, for the most part, thoroughly "secular".
Now this is the exact opposite of how Satan's situation was. Satan- before he became Satan- was considered to be one of God's closest and most ardent worshipers, so much so that he was placed among the ranks of the angels. Take a pause from reading and think about what that entails. Satan, a fallible, sinful, weak creature made from smokeless fire, was placed in the ranks of the constant celestial worshipers of God, whose every action entailed miracles of some form or the other. We know that a vision of God or even hearing God's voice in a dream is often sufficient to completely transform a person. Imagine, then, being placed in the ranks of the angels! Not only did he thus accumulate a deep spiritual and experiential knowledge of God, but he was there with Him. He was there in the Divine presence. That's as high up as mortal aspirations may go. It is in this context that Satan was given the command he was given- when all of his doubts about Allah were non-existent, when he had absolutely 100% reason to trust in God's judgment and wisdom, when he had the deepest understanding of who God is and what His nature is. At this point, he had seen all the evidences, there wasn't to be any confusion on his part when such a command was given. At most he may have been taken aback by the command, or paused at its supposed incredulity, but his knowledge and "faith" did by no means warrant a complete rejection of the command. This command, then, is no more unfair than God's command to Abraham (peace be on him) to sacrifice his son, only that it was one hundred times more justified in the case of Satan. Abraham never saw God- he only spoke to him. Abraham wasn't placed in the ranks of angels. He wasn't in God's presence when this command came. All of this and more was done in the case of Satan. He had absolutely no excuse to think a command- any command- from God was unfair.
All of this discussion is moot however, because we clearly know from the Qur'an that Satan wasn't punished because of sincerely thinking the command was unfair, but rather because of his hidden kufr and arrogance.
Finally, and very importantly, note that Satan didn't become Satan chiefly because he refused to do one sajdah, but because how he acted afterwards. Adam disobeyed God as well, but when he realized his mistake- he repented to God and sincerely felt remorse. Satan's reaction on the other hand was the complete opposite. His immediate request to God after this was for long life, so he could mislead people and create evil. Afterwards, he proceeded to blame God for his own condition, and committed to a life of the most heinous sort of evil imaginable- misguiding people away from their Lord. Here's the remainder of the passage from Surah Al-A'raf-
"[Allah] said, 'Descend from Paradise, for it is not for you to be arrogant therein. So get out; indeed, you are of the debased.'
[Satan] said, 'Reprieve me (i.e. give me time) until the Day they are resurrected.'
[Allah] said, 'Indeed, you are of those reprieved.'
[Satan] said, 'Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You].'" [7:13-17]
Read this and tell me- does this sound like the afterthought of someone who sincerely loved God? Clearly, it demonstrates that Satan had evil bottled up within him from the get go, he was only waiting for the opportunity to come out of the closet and let loose. And many people don't know this- the doors of Allah's repentance was always open to Satan after he showed rebellion. It's a basic point of theology that God accepts the repentance of whoever turns to him (except in very specific conditions, like right at the moment of death after the pangs of death has started). Were Satan to sincerely feel remorse and repent, God would forgive him. But we know as a matter of theological fact that he will not repent. He would continue on with his "evil plan" until the Day of Judgment.
This seems mind-boggling, I know. But that's just who Satan is.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Cosmological Argument(s) for the existence of a First Cause/Necessary being: project outline

So I've been ruminating on different forms of cosmological arguments for quite a while. I think I've hit upon a more or less definitive approach to how to make and present the argument convincingly. The outline is given below.

1. Defend a causal principle that says things like "everything that can have a cause does have a cause" or "every fact calls for an explanation". This is what I will not talk about in this post. I believe Alex Pruss' Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment is basically the end-all-be-all work on the topic.

2. The intuitive thing to do at this point is to somehow apply the causal principle to the cosmos to derive the existence of a first cause or necessary being. How do we do that? Well, that would depend on how we choose to characterize the universe.

2.1. If we can prove an actual infinite is impossible- that's what the Kalam arguer does- then the existence of an uncaused first case immediately follows.

2.2. If, however, we grant that an actual infinite is possible and for all we know the universe is a chain of infinitely many things, then there are multiple routes that can be taken.

At this point, we need to stop and decide what type of cosmological argument we want to run. Do we want to establish the existence of a Necessary Being or a First Cause? As Emanuel Rutten demonstrates in his thesis on the topic, a necessary being- understood as something that exists in all possible worlds- doesn't necessarily imply that it is be uncaused. If that is true, then an argument that aims to establish the existence of a First Cause would be more relevant to theism than a contingency argument, I'd think. After all, something being the uncaused cause- something that is completely independent on anything else for its existence- is an extremely crucial theistic premise, at least more crucial than the premise of something's being impossible to not have existed. Now while I think we should run an argument based on the caused nature of things, let's just run both arguments simultaneously for now. I'll explain the reason in a later section.

2.2.1. If we refrain from characterizing the universe as one entity, then the route we might want to take is that of Paul Herrick, and argue that while an actual infinite may be possible- we cannot believe in the causal principle or the PSR arrived at in 1 and still hold to an infinite universe.

2.2.2. If we characterize the universe as one entity, there are two ways of going about it. If, follow Richard Gale and Alexander Pruss, we characterize the universe as a conjunction of all (contingent/caused, depending on the argument you adopt) facts/objects, then we have to demonstrate that this leads to something of a vicious circularity, as Alex Pruss does in his PSR:A Reassessment. Also see last post in the blog. If, following James van Cleve and William Wainwright among others, we characterize the universe as the proposition "there are contingent/caused things" and say that this proposition requires explanation just as much as the proposition "there are zebras", then we need to demonstrate that the intuition in the second proposition applies to the first proposition. To do that, we need to demonstrate what is it about a set of things that makes it call out for an explanation as a class. Emanuel Rutten, following Kathrin Koslicki, suggests that it is the fact that the set of things constitute a natural kind. What we would then have to do is establish solid criteria for a set of objects being a natural kind, and then demonstrate the cosmos qualifies. This is exactly what Rutten does in his thesis. I plan to review his entire argument in a later post, in sha Allah.*

Now let's pause for a moment and take stock. What has happened here is we characterized the universe in different ways, and demonstrated that no matter how we characterize it, we end up with a First Cause. The First Cause is pretty much unavoidable. And this underlines the cumulative strength of the argument. Due to the changing nature of metaphysics, it may be the case that at least some of the characterizations leading to a First Cause would be challenged. The non-existence of an actual infinity has come under a lot of fire recently. What is much more improbable is that all of these branches leading to a First Cause would be challenged. So not only does this formulation serve to underline the strength of a cosmological argument based on the cumulative strength of a number of different strands of evidences, but it also significantly undercuts the objection that we cannot rely on metaphysics to get to the existence of God because it's always changing. First off, that characterization is unfair because while some aspects of metaphysics are indeed subject to change, others aspects are so widely agreed upon that there's little chance they would change. Secondly, what are odds that all of these different lines of reasoning leading to the First Cause would be disproved, even on a changing metaphysics?

3. At this point, we'd need to address some objections against the existence of a Necessary Being/First Cause. The objections either state that such things are impossible- which is a difficult burden of proof I doubt anyone would want to carry- or that they are so counterintuitive that it violates some explanatory virtue(s).

3.1. What we would need to do first is to demonstrate that the necessary being/first cause isn't as counterintuitive as people think. Popular strategies include appealing to abstracta which are arguably necessary and even more arguably causally efficacious, and appealing to the plausibility (not validity) of ontological argument(s). If the project succeeds, we'll be armed with some increased prior probability of the First Cause/Necessary Being hypothesis.

3.2. We would now need to delve into discussions of what makes a good explanation, and when the reduction of the explanatory virtue(s) (simplicity, say) would not amount to much because it would be offset by the explanatory power of the hypothesis.

4. Finally, the gap problem. We've arrived at a First Cause, in that the effects of all other causes are ontologically posterior to this Cause's effect, and its firstness entails that it is uncaused and depends on nothing else for its existence. This is indeed an important premise of theism. However, we want to see if we can derive other theism-friendly attributes of this First Cause. The obvious choice for this is personhood. How do we prove that the First Cause is a person? One strategy (used by Alex Pruss) is to deploy the explanatory trilemma argument- an explanation can either be conceptual, scientific or personal. The First Cause causing the rest of reality is clearly not a conceptual explanation, neither is it a scientific one because laws can never be necessary. Now there are two gaps in the argument's reasoning- one, there might be some fundamental law that is indeed necessary, and two, the First Cause (and hence its action) may not be necessary, in which case it may be a nomological/scientific explanation. Enter the argument from contingency. I mentioned just after section 2.1 that the First Cause argument is more theism-relevant than the contingency argument. In spite of that, I suggested we should run both. This is where the contingency argument becomes relevant: we can prove, using the argument, that the first cause is necessary. If the set of contingent objects need an explanation, as the contingency argument proves, then that explanation would require a necessary being. If that necessary being is not the first cause, then the first cause must be necessary and causally prior to it because a contingent object cannot cause a necessary object. This proves the First Cause must be necessary. As such, its action must not involve a law because laws can never be necessary. Hence, the First Cause is personal.

So there you have it: the existence of a Necessary, personal Uncaused Cause that is ontologically prior to, independent of, and responsible for, the existence of all other reality. Et hoc decimus Deum, as they say.

To my mind, this outline has three advantages:

a) It highlights the cumulative strength of all the different first cause arguments (Kalam-causality-contingency),

b) The outline resists the changing nature of the discipline of metaphysics,

c) The outline aims at reaching a conclusion that is relevant to theism.


*This strategy relies on demonstrating that the cosmos having sufficient properties in common. To do that, Rutten characterizes the cosmos as consisting of metaphysical simples. This requires the premises of atomism and composition-as-identity. This project works so far as we're dealing with natural objects, because it's plausible to think, given where science is going right now, that all natural reality is composed of fields or quarks or strings or what have you. But it's much less plausible if we are not nominalists and believe in the existence of abstracta (but see this). It's also less plausible if we consider supernatural things like souls or angels. It's much less plausible to think that the stuff of the natural universe is very similar to the stuff of the supernatural reality. As such, I think his project would work only when we confine our attention to the natural cosmos. If we do this, we might not be able to prove the existence of a first cause (because that first cause may be supernaturally caused by something else), but we'll still arrive at a supernatural something being responsible for the existence of the natural world. That's pretty relevant to theism too, I'd say.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Cosmological Arguments: A Gentle Introduction

Cosmos= The universe, all of existence. Cosmological arguments constitute a family of arguments for the existence of God.

In understanding the cosmological arguments, the first mistake people make is thinking there's just one of them i.e. the so-called Kalam cosmological argument popularized by William Lane Craig. An understandable mistake, no doubt- this is the only cosmological argument (or any argument for God for that matter) that's been popularized to this extent. It's easy to equivocate between this and cosmological arguments simpliciter. That's why it's common to hear things like "Oh I've heard all about the cosmological argument, it's completely unconvincing". Last I checked, not only are there a bunch of cosmological arguments, but each argument have been formulated and re-formulated many times throughout history.

So, what is a cosmological argument?

Throughout history, thinkers and reflective people have noticed that there is something fundamentally mysterious about reality. Something about reality itself calls out for some sort of extra-natural explanation. And it's not just certain aspects of reality- like the earth being habitable or living organisms being works of engineering- that call out for such an explanation, but every part of reality. Reality itself is mysterious. Philosophers throughout the ages have tried to put their finger on what is it about reality that makes it so mysterious, so explanation-worthy. Myriad answers have been offered- the phenomenon of motion, the phenomenon of change, the contingency or ephemeral nature of all objects, causality, and so on. Why is it that all things in the cosmos follow a strict, regular, universal order, as if guided towards some end?- asked the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, while Newton's contemporary Leibniz wondered about the contingency of all things (more on both soon). When you think about it, it is indeed mysterious that all of reality would be uniformly characterized by such features, where things could clearly have been otherwise. Things could have worked without the least whiff of regularity and lawlikeness, for example, or reality could have been a mosaic of necessary and contingent parts. These philosophers reasoned- the only way to account for these mysterious yet ubiquitous properties of the cosmos is to invoke the creative action of a being with properties similar to those of the God of Abrahamic theism, broadly conceived. That is the basic, intuitive thrust of a cosmological argument.

More precisely though, a cosmological argument uses as premise some large-scale feature of the cosmos- motion, change, order, contingency, causality, incidental properties, what have you- to argue for the existence of God.

Why "argument"?

This is a question that concerns the entire discipline of natural theology- why is it that philosophers always speak in terms of arguments and premises and conclusions and explanations and these debate-centric terminology? Why can't we just use our intuitions as guides to God? So in the case of the cosmological arguments for example- why don't we just appeal to the intrinsic mystery of these cosmic features as they are, instead of making rigorous, formulaic argument out of them?

The concern is valid. Indeed, sometimes the arguments of natural theology become so convoluted that we lose sight of its fundamental intuitive thrust. That's bad news. An evidence for God shouldn't only appeal to the logician in you, but also satisfy you at an intuitive, even emotional level. Understood this way, an argument is only as good as the level of faith it produces in you. And faith is as much a matter of the heart as it is of the intellect. That's why I'm a big proponent of exploring the intuition behind an argument before entering the more formulaic discussions concerning it. That's also why I find ontological arguments distasteful- not necessarily because they're weak, but because they are so hard to relate with and intuit.

That said, I'd say arguments are still important. You see, intuitions can only go so far as guides for truth. The human psyche is rife with potential logical fallacies and cognitive biases. It thus becomes difficult to tell a genuine intuition from an artificial, socially constructed one. Non-theists are cognizant of this fact, and for many of them the sole reliance of intuition as evidences for God may not just cut it. They may claim to not have those intuitions, saying there's nothing mysterious about the order in nature. Note that it's possible to 'talk yourself out' of even self-evident propositions. Especially in today's context where God is such an unpopular hypothesis, intuitions commonly associated with theism like order in nature and universal causality have largely fallen out of favor. Such a society is not conducive to theistic intuitions, and even if these intuitions are widely shared- people may explain them away as evolutionary spandrels.

That's where arguments come in. For someone who doesn't appear to share your intuitions, you need something more precise and objective. Arguments are what can demonstrate or prove the rational legitimacy of intuitions. This exercise is often taxing because you sometimes need to employ quite a set of terminology and analytic tools to lay out your intuitions in detail, and then defend them cogently. Trust me though, it turns out to be rewarding.

Arguments are even more required in the context of cosmology, since these arguments work with very little scientific data. They are primarily exercises in metaphysics, the branch of philosophy which deals with the ultimate truths of reality. The scope of metaphysics is so broad and unwieldy that there's little scope for scientific experimentation for confirming or disconfirming hypotheses. Sometimes such scopes do present themselves, however- physical cosmology is making it possible to test some metaphysical claims like whether the universe had a beginning. But this is the exception, not the rule. With so little data to work on, the only tool we have to sharpen our intuitions and 'quantify' them in some way is by employing structured arguments.

Examples of some cosmological arguments

As was alluded to above, many features of the cosmos are deemed to be mysterious by many, and used as fodder for cosmological arguments. Here are my three favorite examples. I'll just explain briefly their intuitive thrust here. The specific argument structures are for another day.

1. Contingency. Think about the chair you are (presumably) sitting in right now. Could it not have existed? Of course- the maker of the chair could simply have chosen not to make it, you could have chosen not to buy it, the human civilization could have evolved in such a way so that a chair were never invented- there are so many alternative possibilities. Same goes with the street in front of your house, or the building across it, or even you. Or even the whole neighborhood. Or even the earth. It seems that for all of these things, the possibility of them not existing is open. We can easily conjure up scenarios in the world's history which led to their non-existence. When you think about it, nothing in the world is such that it must have existed. Even laws of nature could have been different were the initial conditions of the cosmos different. Provided we live in a multiverse, perhaps there's another space-time continuum patch where gravity doesn't exist. All of the cosmos is characterized with this possibility of having been different than how they are now. This possibility of having been different is what philosophers call contingency.

Now clearly there are facts which are not contingent, but necessary. A circle could not for the life of it have possessed sides. A thing cannot but be identical to itself. The whole is necessarily greater than the part. These and many other facts are examples of facts which could not conceivably have been any different. A simple but imprecise way of characterizing necessity vs. contingency is thinking about them in terms of independence and non-self-dependence. Contingent facts seem to be dependent on something else for their obtaining, while necessary facts are true just because they are. They are true by virtue of their own nature, as they say. You can imagine necessity and contingency being two modes of being. Something can exist necessarily or it can exist contingently. A fact can be true, but it can be true in two modes- necessary or contingent.

When you think about the cosmos though, it seems to be characterized by just one mode of being- contingency. If everything were necessary, it wouldn't have been significant because necessary things are self-explanatory. There is nothing surprising about a circle having no sides, that's just the way it necessarily is. Reality could have also been a mosaic of necessary and contingent things. But the cosmos consists exclusively of things of one modality. Doesn't that call out for some external explanation? If reality consisted of human beings and nothing but human beings, it would be a perfectly legitimate question to ask- why are there human beings at all?- even if we had an explanation of each human being in terms of her parents. Similarly, since reality consists of contingent things and nothing but, it seems a plausible question to ask- why are there contingent things at all?

The theistic answer, of course, is that there is a Necessary Being- who exists not because of any external circumstance or explanation but because of its own nature- chose to bring about the existence of contingent things.

2. Causality. Instead of contingent vs. necessary, think of caused vs. uncaused things (the properties of 'being caused' and 'being contingent' are close, but not exactly identical). As with the previous example, our cosmos seems to consist exclusively of caused things. The property of causedness characterizes literally all of reality. Again, whence cometh caused objects? The answer closest at hand seems to be that an Uncaused being chose to bring about caused things in existence.

3. Order. Think of the coin that I'm holding in my hand. I have a firm conviction that if I were to drop it, it would fall to the ground. Where does this conviction emerge?

We human beings have an important and profound belief in the uniformity of natural laws. Not only is this belief necessary for functioning in everyday life, but it's crucial for the most advanced sorts of scientific research. I know if I jump from the rooftop, I will not randomly oscillate through the air but fall hard to the ground. Instead of turning into a green dragon, the sun would indeed faithfully rise in the East the next day. Sodium and chloride will continue to react to form table salt. Copper will continue to expand when heated. Justin Bieber will continue being uncool.

The reason we trust these intuitions is probably because these intuitions are a reflection of how things really are. There are actual solid laws of nature set in the fabric of the cosmos, and all things being equal, they wouldn't fail to obtain. If these regularities were just descriptions of nature as they are and not something deeper, as the Scottish philosopher David Hume famously believed, then our intuitions about the laws continuing to hold amounts to nothing. On Hume's view, the sun rising in the west has just as much probability as the sun rising in the east. One cannot escape the belief in laws, an universal order that governs all things.

Now how to explain this order? Scientific explanations clearly wouldn't suffice, since they assume the existence of laws beforehand. Science uses laws to explain things, although those things could be other laws. But to explain the existence of laws in general- that's where science would fall short, because there wouldn't be any law to explain the laws with. Some philosophical accounts of the law tried to explain this in materialistic terms, but I believe those explanations fail. The only way to explain them, again, is to posit a lawmaker and/or a law-upholder, an extra-natural being who preserves this order in nature. Et hoc decimus deum, as they say- all know this to be God.

Recommended reading/listening

Time for me to give some material on cosmological arguments.

1. First five podcasts from here
2. Paul Herrick, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe, here
3. Alexander Pruss and Richard Gale, A New Cosmological Argument, Religious Studies 35, 1999
4. Robert Koons, A New Look at Cosmological Arguments, American Philosophical Quarterly 34, 1997
5. Alexander Pruss, Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment
6. Alexander Pruss, The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument, in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland
7. Emanuel Rutten, Towards a Renewed Case of Theism: A Critical Assessment of the Contemporary Cosmological Arguments
8. John Foster, The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Understanding Divine Necessity

Recently, a brother mailed me about confusions he was having about God's necessity and self-existence. I sent this response:

"Brother, note that one of the very cornerstones of Islamic theology is that God is inconceivable. You can't understand His modality. This is not a claim made by Muslim theologians in the face of these problems, but it's one of the central religious claims being made from day one. You'll never find any Muslim- be it a sahaba or a scholar- making a claim to the contrary, thinking the nature of God can be grasped. That's why it's not surprising that we find the concept of God being necessary so mysterious. Come to think of it, all other reality (apart from God) is contingent, dependent on something else. God is the one and ultimate example where this rule doesn't work. This central feature of God goes against virtually all of our experiences. That's one of the reasons why the mystery of necessity is so profound. God is over and above all of our experience. He is really and truly transcendent. But then again, Islamic theology never made the claim that you can understand this transcendent God. You can't. You can believe in Him, have some sort of a conception of Him, experience Him in your life- but you can never understand him fully with your intellect. This is why one of the great preachers of our time has said- you can understand theology when you put your intellect to the ground.

But does all of this mean God or Islam is irrational and contrary to the intellect? Of course not. Islam is very clear on this- there are certain aspects of the deen that you can grasp with your intellect clearly, while certain other parts you can't. In this context, we can clearly see why a necessary being is required for all contingent reality to exist. However, we can't see precisely how this necessity works. It is beyond our limited, contingent intellect. At the same time, we can find good reasons to believe that God created all of reality apart from Himself. But we can't really hope to understand how this creation was done. This is because we don't see creation, we never do. In all our experiences, all we see are change, conversions, transformation of one thing to another. But true creation from nothing- we have never observed that and never will, unless Allah wills. And yet Allah created this universe in specifically this mysterious way. Does this mystery mean we shouldn't believe God is the creator? No, what we should believe is God is indeed the Creator for XYZ reasons, but we don't- and can't- understand how is it that He creates.

The same can be said for so many things. If you study the problem of induction and the existence of laws of nature, you'll reach the conclusion that the only way to account for the laws of the universe is to believe God actively "upholds" these laws. And yet, it's profoundly mysterious to think that a being could "uphold" laws. We don't see this anywhere. We see all things subject to laws, but not upholding laws. Simply put, every aspect of philosophy of religion you read, you'll be faced with even deeper mysteries concerning God. And for me, that fact only strengthened my faith, as opposed to weakening it. I guess it would weaken it were we told to believe in some sort of a limited, immanent god, a god we're supposed to understand with intellect. But Islam never made that claim. Islam is a very strong proponent of the transcendence of God, the sheer inconceivability of His being.

With that said, there have been efforts to render God's necessary existence somewhat intelligible. Here's something Paul Herrick wrote which goes to the heart of the topic:

The question is: Doesn't NB [Necessary Being] simply bring up the question of existence all over again, causing us to ask, "But what accounts for the existence of the necessary being?" And doesn't this just generate an infinite regression of necessary beings, leaving us no better off than when we started—saddled with unexplained existences? Doesn't NB just make "re-askers" of us all? These are very good questions, indeed profound questions. But I believe there is a very good reply, indeed a profound reply, one which was put concisely by Peter van Inwagen in his textbook Metaphysics:
But [to ask, of a necessary being, "Why does it exist?" or "What explains its existence?" ] is to neglect the fact that a necessary being is one whose non-existence is impossible. Thus, for any necessary being, there is by definition a sufficient reason [i.e., explanation] for its existence: there could hardly be a more satisfying explanation for the existence of a thing than that its non-existence was impossible.[23]
This reply may sound too simple at first, but its surface simplicity belies its true depth. I submit that once one carefully mulls over van Inwagen's answer, and once one fully understands its meaning and significance, necessary existence comes into focus as the only existentially self-subsuming mode of existence, and necessity grounded explanation is revealed as the only self-subsuming, self-explanatory form of explanation we possess. Let's see why.
A necessary being, if one existed, would by hypothesis be a being whose essential nature is such that its nonexistence is absolutely impossible. It follows that in the case of a necessary being N, the explanation of it existence (the explanatory ground of its existence), is a necessary logical fact internal to its own being—internal in the sense that it obtains independently of all possible circumstances. And what is that internal fact? The impossibility of N's nonexistence. Van Inwagen is right: Surely the impossibility of some being N's nonexistence would be a logically sufficient condition of N's existence. (This is a matter of pure logic.) In this exact sense, a necessary being contains within itself the sufficient condition of its own existence. This is self-explanation if there ever was such.
The reflective mind reaches out beyond the category of contingency because, as we have seen, if all things are merely contingent, then there is no explanation for why contingent things exist, nothing that might account for the existence of contingent beings as a whole. And what is the only place to land outside of contingency? Explanation in terms of noncontingent being—in other words, explanation grounded in a necessary existence.
Given the reasoning above, it seems clear that the necessary being hypothesis, if true, would leave behind no existential facts "considered brute for the purposes of the explanation"—contrary to Mackie's claim that all explanations presuppose something brute. I conclude that NB seems to be just the type of explanation we need in order to bring a regress of explanations of contingent existence to a rationally satisfying conclusion. What other explanatory option do we have?
So, the concept of necessary existence presents us with an existentially self-subsuming explanation, one that could form a rock-bottom endpoint for a universal explanatory regress. This is an existential basis that would account at once both for its own existence and for the contingent existence of everything else, leaving no brute existence in its wake. Many philosophers have thought that if contingent existence were to be explained by reference to a metaphysically necessary ground of being (or, à la Parsons, if all contingencies are ultimately grounded in something necessary), then no existence would be left brute. All existence would then be accounted for, since a necessary being, if one were to exist, would be existentially self-explanatory in the sense defined above (and in contrast to a contingent being, whose existence can only be explained in terms of something external to it). Although Parsons does not examine and drill into this explanatory option, this is the explanatory advantage we get if we postulate a being whose essence is such that its nonexistence is simply, fundamentally, absolutely, and metaphysically impossible.
Perhaps it is now clear why many philosophers maintain that if explanations of contingent existence ultimately regress back to a metaphysically necessary ground of being, then all existence, including the rock bottom level, is accounted for, and brute fact is conquered. In Metaphysics, van Inwagen also wrote:
Why should there be anything at all?... If we could show that there was a necessary being ... we should have an answer to our question. For if there were a necessary being, then it would be impossible for there to be nothing. And if we could show that it was impossible for there to be nothing, that, surely, would count as an answer to our question.[24]
Alexander Pruss brings more to the table:

"Perhaps a necessary being is impossible. Abstracta [i.e. abstract things] such as propositions and numbers, however, furnish a quick counterexample to this for many philosophers. However, one might argue that there cannot be a causally efficacious necessary being, whereas the unproblematic abstracta such as propositions and numbers are not causally inefficacious. A radical response to this is to question the dogma that propositions and numbers are causally inefficacious...."

...And then he goes to a deep philosophical tangent into how sometimes even abstract things like numbers can cause objects. His argument essentially says: if numbers can be causally efficacious and necessary, why can't God be necessary as well? He then moves on to say that even if numbers are held to be causally inefficacious, there still is no good reason to think a necessary being can't exist. We might have emotional restraints against accepting such a being, but how much can we trust our gut-feelings when it comes to truth?

Additionally, the phenomena of logical and arithmetic truths present another way of solving the dilemma. Think about the following statements:

* 7+5=12
* Socrates is identical to himself
* Something cannot be completely red and completely blue all at the same time
* A part is smaller than its whole, and so on.

None of these statements have any further explanations. They are *just* true, and that's all that can be said about it. In modal terms, they are true because of the necessity of their own nature. In spite of there being no further explanations, we use these concepts regularly in our everyday reasoning, ranging from crossing the road to sending rovers to other planets. Yet, their necessity is something profoundly mysterious. Do the fact that they have no further explanations- are necessary- lead us to reject them? If not, why should we reject God?

Finally, if you study the ontological argument for God's existence, it argues that from the concept of God the necessity of His being can be derived. It's a very complex philosophical argument, but some of the most recent versions of the argument (i.e. by Robert Maydole) have been successful on the whole.

To sum up, then:

1. The concept of God is inherently mysterious. This shouldn't lead us to despair, but rather make us appreciate God's concept even more.
2. God's existence can be rationally derived from the signs in the universe, but that doesn't mean His nature can be understood due to who He is and who we are.
3. As Paul Herrick said, there can hardly be a better explanation than a Necessary Being, since it leads us to the conclusion that it's non-existence is impossible. There is, then, nothing left unexplained by it.
4. The mystery of God's necessity can be understood somewhat (although there is no comparison between God and anything else) when we think about how necessary truths and numbers are used everyday in our life, and the mystery inherent in them doesn't lead us to reject them.
5. An ontological argument can sufficiently explain God's necessity, although it requires very hairy philosophical reasoning.

Hope this helps."

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Argument from contingency- random thoughts

So I was reading Al Plantinga's Nature of Necessity, and some thoughts crossed my mind.

First, note that an argument from contingency can be either about (concrete) things or propositions. We're gonna talk about the argument that concerns itself with propositions.

Second, here's the basic strategy of the proponent of the argument.

1. Isolate some basic causal/explanatory feature of the world, based on everyday experiences. It could be that objects are always dependent on other objects (contingent objects), propositions are never self-explained but they are always explained by other propositions, and so on.

2. Generalize this feature maximally. The generalized proposition would look something like "every proposition/thing is explained by virtue of its own nature or by some external object/proposition".

3. Characterize the world as just one entity- one object, one set, one class of things/propositions. In other words, define, say, all of the contingent reality as just one entity bound by some property. Joshua Rasmussen characterizes the world as a "actual maximally contingent state", while Gale and Pruss define the world as a "Big Contingent Cosmological Fact (BCCF)".

4. Apply the generalized causal explanatory principle of 2 to the world arrived at 3. The argument at this point would say, for example, that the BCCF has an explanation since it cannot be self-explained.

5. Characterize this explanation/object arrived at by the exercise in 4 with relevant theistic properties. The fact that the BCCF's explanation entails a necessary concrete being follows obviously. The philosopher would then have to delineate other properties of this necessary concrete being, like personhood and free will for example.

And you have your contingency argument.


The rooms for attack against such a contingency argument are:

1. A causal/explanatory principle that can be generalized maximally is hard to come by. Leibniz's "Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR)" came pretty close, but it has recently faced mounting objections from theists and non-theists alike. Two of the most potent objections are a reductio ad absurdum argument presented by Peter van Inwagen, and the empirical data from quantum mechanics. This is why atheist William Rowe advices theists to find warrant for the PSR. However, theistic philosophers have sidestepped this problem by formulating weaker forms of PSR which are much more plausible. In Gale and Pruss' paper on the topic, they formulate a new principle called W-PSR (weak PSR), which states that all contingent propositions possibly have explanations, instead of saying that they necessarily have explanations.

2. Characterizing the world as just one entity runs into problems. When you think about it, this step is perhaps the most problematic in the whole argument. Can the cosmos really be viewed as just one entity, any more than "my left foot, your right ear, a bottlecap in the road and the upper part of the statue of liberty" together make up an entity? In other words, ascribing entityhood to the entire contingent cosmos seems to be somewhat ad hoc. Many people, if you ask them "what is the one property that all of the items/propositions in our known cosmos have in common?", would probably answer- nothing. In light of this intuitive ad hoc-ness, there needs to be a solid argument which backs up step 3. Unfortunately, such an argument has not been very forthcoming. Gale and Pruss doesn't consider the fact that the BCCF may be implausible. One way the BCCF can be thought to be a single proposition or entity is the fact that all of it shares the modal property of contingency (some people would say contingency is not a property, but I'd say that's hard to argue since necessity is clearly a property). In light of this one unifying attribute, perhaps the BCCF can be viewed to be just one entity. Emanuel Rutten in his brilliant PhD thesis "Towards a Renewed Case for Theism: A Critical Assessment of Contemporary Cosmological Arguments" develops a rigorous criteria for entityhood of different objects based on some mereological principles. An interesting question would be- can this be applied for propositions? If so, then it would be relevant to the Gale-Pruss cosmological argument. Also, some arguments against the plausibility of BCCF have been proposed by some philosophers, but they are of a complex reductio ad absurdum form and I haven't explored them. Some other philosophers have suggested that if the BCCF is infinite, then it may be absurd based on some arguments.

3. Attribution of theistic properties to the "God" arrived at by the argument may be a tall order. In his essay on the topic in Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Alex Pruss makes the point that this step in the argument- what he calls the gap problem- is the least researched thus far (perhaps for sociological reasons). Without the entity having some theistic properties, it wouldn't be very useful as an argument in natural theology. Gale and Pruss thus try and characterize this entity with personhood and free will. As for personhood, the argument is essentially a process of elimination- the ultimate explanation of the BCCF cannot be a nomological/scientific one, since that would involve laws- and laws are never necessary. Two questions arise- one, what if there are some fundamental necessary laws? And two, what if the process was stochastic? These are not insurmountable problems, the first question can be rebutted by appeal to the contingency of laws in general (as per the deliverance of our observations), and the second can be answered by refuting possibility of purely random processes. I believe Rutten does the latter in his thesis, albeit briefly.

4. Problems in generalizing. A very important objection to such arguments is the Humean self-explanatory thesis- perhaps the universe even perceived as an entity is self-explained in the sense proposition A explains proposition B, proposition B explains proposition C, and so on. If this is true, then not only does the universe not have an external explanation, but it simply cannot have an external explanation. One would need to refute this argument to preserve the causal principle invoked at step 1 and later applied at step 4. Gale and Pruss has a controversial and (in my opinion) long-winded refutation to this. Rutten, however, in his thesis invokes an argument by James van Cleve who argues that such internal explanations are circular, in that they cannot explain why contingent objects in general exist. But then the problem is the same as roadblock #2 above- can the collection of all contingent objects be said to make up an entity such that questions like "why do contingent objects exist (cf. why does water exist?)" are feasible? Or is such an ascription of entityhood to all contingent objects/propositions ad hoc?

5. Competing intuitions. Finally, one may suggest that the conclusion arrived at by the argument (the existence of a necessary and personal being) invokes a degree of mystery which cannot be explained by the intuitive nature of the premises of the argument. In other words, one may suggest that rejection of the causal principles and other premises of the argument may be of a greater explanatory virtue than positing a necessary being. The latter invokes questions like- why is a being necessary? In a personal correspondence, professor Rutten had this to say: "...a philosophical or scientific explanation doesn't require an explanation of the explanation. For it that were the case, we would end up in an infinite regress, and even science itself would become impossible. Given some fairly plausible premises, a necessary being explains the existence of a world of contingent beings. This explanation is proper, even if one cannot provide an explanation of this explanation, that is to say, even though one cannot explain what makes this necessary being necessary."