2018 was a bellwether year for philosophical theology, with the publication of three blockbusters by Oxford University Press: "Necessary Existence," by Alexander Pruss and Joshua Rasmussen, "Infinity, Causation, and Paradox," by Alexander Pruss, and "Two Dozen (Or So) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project," edited by Jerry Walls and Trent Dougherty.
These books are shifting the momentum in the debate over God’s existence, throwing atheists and agnostics on the defensive. The prospects for a renaissance of theism are bright.
Alex Pruss, a brilliant young philosopher at Baylor University, is the author and co-author of two of the three books. Pruss is the ablest defender of theism since C. S. Lewis — perhaps the ablest since Thomas Aquinas. Pruss has PhDs in both philosophy and mathematics, publishing highly regarded articles in both fields. If there were a Nobel Prize in Philosophy, Pruss would have my vote.
In "Necessary Existence," Pruss, with talented co-author Josh Rasmussen, use the tools of modern “analytic” philosophy to revive and solidify the ancient argument for a First (Uncaused) Cause of the universe, a being whose existence is necessary rather than contingent — that is, a being that exists and couldn’t possibly have failed to exist. This is a vital first step in arguing for the existence of a truly transcendent and supernatural Creator.
Pruss and Rasmussen show how difficult it is to avoid this conclusion without logical inconsistency.
Rasmussen has created a fun web site, necessarybeing.com, in which you can check whether your beliefs are consistent with atheism. So far, over 80 percent of atheists who have visited the site discover that they already believe premises that entail the existence of a necessary being.
Pruss’s second book, "Infinity, Causation, and Paradox," decisively destroys the atheist’s favorite escape hatch: the supposition that there is an infinite regress of causes, with thing 1 caused by thing 2, thing 2 caused by thing 3, and so on to infinity.
Pruss uses mathematical proofs to demonstrate that every event has only finitely many causes.
If we suppose that some things might have an infinity of causes (as it would if the world includes an infinite regress), a plethora of contradictions result.
One of my favorite examples is the Grim Reaper Paradox, first discovered by philosopher José Benardete in 1968.
Here’s a version of the paradox. There are an infinite number of “Grim Reapers” (each a personification of death), numbered from 1 to infinity. The Grim Reapers pass a note (the victim’s death warrant) from one to another: Reaper 1 receives his note from Reaper 2, Reaper 2 from Reaper 3, and so on to infinity (an infinite regress). If Grim Reaper "n" receives a note from Reaper "n + 1" containing a number larger than "n," then Reaper "n" simply passes that note unchanged to Reaper "n – 1." If Reaper "n" receives a note that contains no number, then Reaper writes the number "n" on the note "r" and passes the result to Reaper "n – 1." What note does Reaper 1 (the last Reaper) receive? It can’t be a blank piece of paper, since a blank paper would have received some number larger than 1, and any Reaper before Reaper 1 would have filled in a blank note. But it can’t be any number "k." Here’s why. Suppose the note contains the number "k." This means that Reaper "k" received a blank note from Reaper "k + 1." But that’s impossible, since any Reaper with number greater than "k" would have written its number on a blank note. Hence, the infinite regress must be impossible. By similar reasoning, we can conclude that the universe itself must have a First Cause.
But is this First Cause God?
The third book, "Two Dozen (or So) Arguments for God" gives us an abundance of reasons to think so.
For example, philosopher Robin Collins shows that the universe has been fine-tuned (in respect of its fundamental physical constants) in order to make scientific discovery possible. If any of those constants had been slightly smaller or greater than it is, all science would have been impossible. Since we know that the universe had a first cause, Collins’s argument gives us reason to think that that first cause is intelligent and purposeful — in fact, that its purposes include the fulfillment of human aspirations for knowledge.
In my own chapter in the book, I build on work by C. S. Lewis and Alvin Plantinga to show that, in the absence of the existence of God, all human knowledge would be impossible. If human thought emerged in a universe without a wise and benevolent creator, then our thought would be, at best, well adjusted for survival and reproduction, but not for truth. In particular, our knowledge of the norms of reason depend on God’s wise benevolence.
Rob Koons is a professor of philosophy specializing in logic, metaphysics, philosophical theology, and political thought. He is the author and editor of six books, including "The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics" (with Tim Pickavance, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). He has been active in conservative circles, both nationally and in Texas, including the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Philadelphia Society, and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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