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I have come across a supposedly new argument for the existence of God, I would be interested in whether this has been discussed in literature. Is there any resemblance to Plantinga's EAAN?

The argument

  1. If meaning (and explanation) can only be derived from the natural world, then all conceptions of reality are derived from the natural world.

  2. If all conceptions of reality are derived from the natural world, then they must be a coherence of meaningful experiences

  3. People believe that there is a meaningful transcendent reality (i.e. God) that shares no properties with the natural world.

  4. If Premise 1-2, then Premise 3 is a conception of reality derived from the natural world, which content is a coherence of meaningful experiences.

  5. No number of meaning experiences can direct one to consider the probability of something meaningful beyond said experiences.

Conclusion: Therefore, Premise 3 is not a conception of reality derived from the natural world.

  • What's the argument for P5? I may never have heard of the number 5, but I can imagine a number 2+3. I may never have seen China, but I can imagine it (which still doesn't mean my rough conception has anything to do with "China", or that it is transcendent). It sounds like you have used 'transcendent' to mean 'God', and therefore proved only what you already accepted as real. – dwn Feb 19 '15 at 19:38
  • Hi dwn, thanks for the reply. Just to clarify, this argument isn't actually my construction. I'm not too sure about P5 myself, there is no real argument for P5 beyond those two sentences. – Five σ Feb 19 '15 at 19:42
  • However, the gist of the entire argument is: If naturalism is true, then all meaningful concepts (that are formed in our head) are either some natural experience or a composite of natural experiences. For example, we can think of a unicorn because it is a horse with a horn etc. On the other hand, non-meaningful concepts are incoherent composites (eg: a married bachelor or a square circle) However, some people believe in God which is beyond all the composites of natural experiences. God is not a composite of natural experiences nor a non-meaningful concept. Therefore, naturalism is false. – Five σ Feb 19 '15 at 19:44
  • I think it comes down to the word 'believe' in P3; does it mean 'make reference to', 'believe due to experience', or 'conceive transcendent ideal'? So it seems circular – dwn Feb 19 '15 at 19:48
  • I don't think it is 'exclusive or'; there could be a conception that is partially formal, partially logical. It's not a bad first post, but you should probably try to narrow it down in order to get a more useful answer that is less redundant with other SE questions. Maybe look into a particular line of inquiry, maybe in relation to what the logical can say about the formal. – dwn Feb 19 '15 at 20:20
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I don't think this is in essence any different from various ontological arguments; I don't think it bears much relation to Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. (Plantinga does have a version of an ontological argument.)

Plantinga's ontological argument, and your argument, manifest a confusion about the difference between what one can imagine (or state) and what is real. That is, you start by granting that our minds can outline states of affairs that are not real, model worlds if you will; and then you insist that because some quality or property or proposition is true in the model world, it has some bearing on the real world. It need not! We can formally state all sorts of things that have no bearing on the real world at all, and in at least some sense we can imagine them.

There is no real avenue for improvement because it is exactly this (invalid) jump that forms the crux of the argument. In fact, pretty much every premise of yours is highly doubtful in the sense you mean it once this jump is ruled out. "All conceptions of reality are derived from the natural world" may be true causally, but only in the sense that all YouTube videos are "derived" from nonlinear properties of electrons in doped silicon. It's not the kind of derivation you need to conclude anything about the real world given our models of it. To show that strong kind of derivation you would need to undertake an extensive empirical study, and would probably come up empty.

Likewise, conceptions of reality need not, prima facie, be a coherence of meaningful experiences (though to call it a "conception of reality" we would expect to find some coherence and meaning even if fragmented). It seems doubtful that people believe that God shares no properties with the natural world if you allow that things like "love" and "justice" can be statements about very complex processes in the natural world. People extrapolate all the time, and P5 basically says, "No extrapolation, that's cheating!"; also, advanced pure mathematics is almost entirely about stuff that is meaningful in contexts absurdly disjoint from properties of the natural world.

(For what it's worth, Plantinga makes a very different kind of mistake with the EAAN, which is to confuse a possible world that he can imagine with the actual world and its correlation structure; in cases where correlations are unreliable or biased, we do in fact have unreliable perceptions, e.g. passage of time when one has a fever, all sorts of impressions about our internal state, etc.. The EAAN is a good argument that not any natural world could be comprehensible to evolved organisms, but it is a horrible argument that our natural world doesn't reward comprehension with fitness.)

So--sorry!--this sort of tactic doesn't generally lead anywhere (hasn't ever yet, at least), even if it can be transiently interesting along the way.

  • Thanks for the elaborate answer :) In the interest of fairness, I will wait a day or two before accepting your answer. – Five σ Feb 19 '15 at 21:07
  • Here is what the author of the argument has to say with regards to p5: "Extrapolation and amplification can only occur within their set contexts. You can keep going "faster, and faster, and faster, and faster", but to think that there is the possibility of something "Beyond fast" makes no sense if that which can be comprehended is only within the scope of the natural world. Meaning: metaphysics shouldnt even be a subject -- it shouldnt even be POSSIBLE to entertain the idea of something beyond the scope in which we exist. " – Five σ Feb 20 '15 at 17:16
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    @5sigma - There's that same confusion again--of course we can comprehend things outside the scope of the natural world: our brains can create model worlds that do not obey the laws of the natural world. (In fact no model world matches the natural world exactly, as we're not omniscient regarding the natural world!) – Rex Kerr Feb 20 '15 at 19:13
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This argument appears to be a variation on one raised by Descartes in the Meditations.

His argument is (proceeding from memory) as follows:

  1. We have adventitious, innate, and aggregated ideas.
  2. Adventitious ideas are only as great as their sources.
  3. Aggregated ideas are merely adventitious ideas that I collect from multiple sources.
  4. We have an idea of God as infinite perfect, etc.
  5. If this idea of God came to me from the outside, it must come from a source equally infinite (per 2-3 with the conjunction that the idea of God exceeds my capacities). Ergo, if it is adventitious, then there's a God
  6. If the idea is innate, then only God could implant such an idea.

Ergo whether the idea of God is innate or adventitious (or aggregate) it comes from God.

At least to me, this seems quite similar to the argument offered in the OP and may suffer from similar problems.

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I don't think that statement 3 is particularly coherent definition of God, since in all religions that I'm aware of, God(s) interact with the world and thus it is false that he/she/it "shares no properties with the natural world". Even Deists tend to base their belief on feelings of awe -- again an interaction with the divine.

Maybe someone out there really does believe in a transcendent that shares no properties with the natural world, but that such a person exists seems non-obvious.

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I can have ideas about things I've never experienced, such as infinite sets or astronomical distances or quantum mechanics. I can have ideas about situations I've never experienced (like the dream in which I was a foot-long mosquito guarding Florida against alien invaders). All of these are at least inspired by things in my experience, but extend beyond it in various ways. Therefore, Premise 5 is not completely correct. I can consider the possibility of anything I can talk about, including God or sets with the same cardinality as the set of all real numbers. I can talk about things that are impossible or even illogical.

Premise 3 makes some serious claims. It refers to some people who talk about what they think they believe. What is the proof that they have an idea of what they claim? How do they tell the difference between transcendent and really really impressive, in real life or conceptually?

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