Saturday, November 07, 2009

The difference between reason and faith?

I think there will always be some tension between faith and reason. Although both are a source of beliefs, they differ in the way beliefs are obtained.

I would define reason as believing in things that can be demonstrated through the five senses. Demonstration helps us to reach some agreement about what is 'true' and what is 'false' about the world around us. If any claim about human experience can be adequately demonstrated, then we are justified in placing some provisional confidence in that claim. Science, for example, uses reason a great deal to assist us in reaching defensible conclusions about how the universe works. In other words, reason provides us with justified (i.e., demonstrable) beliefs about the nature of existence.

I would define faith as believing in things for which we cannot demonstrate through the five senses. This is the opposite of reason. Thus, beliefs acquired through faith are not justified, in the sense that they cannot be adequately demonstrated. Thus, it is often difficult to test the validity of such beliefs. The validity of faith-based beliefs might not matter to an individual who uses faith simply as a source for finding meaning and purpose in life. But to someone like an atheist, who is concerned about adopting beliefs that are justified, faith is often regarded as an inadequate tool for determining what we should, and should not, believe about the world around us.

What do you think?


CyberKitten said...


Cobus said...

A few things:

I do think that reason is more than just that which we can demonstrate through our senses. We consider "logic" to be "reason", even though it's not demonstrated through our senses, but through a few rules that we have deduced from still other rules, and that there is general consensus about that these rules "work", and that it coheres with that which we see through our senses.

There is always more than that which we can see, but this should somehow fit with that which we can see. Theories in science and maths is suspect when they deny that which our senses tells us.

I believe more can be said about faith as well, but I'll leave it at this for now.

gip-k said...

I understand what you're saying, but I think it's good to use faith as talking about human beings as well, rather than just the "faith" as in whether or not you choose to believe in God or something that you can't see.

For example, to "have faith" in someone means to trust them. Of course, you can deduce whether someone is trustworthy by looking at their past actions, but the probability of someone keeping their word isn't really something determinable by the scientific method (as far as I know.)

But as far as having faith in things such as the wrath of God goes (it's not like people ever hear a voice from heaven that says "This is why this happened, this is why I/we did this") then I think that's something subjective to your understand. Anyone can say that God told them something, and they can be either lying or hallucinating. (sorry if I've digressed, but I've been thinking about "God' wrath" so to speak lately) if someone isn't there to back up their testimony with a similar definable experience. For example if two people really heard the same voice at the same time saying the same thing and it was audible, I'd find it hard to believe that that was just a hallucination.

So as such I don't think faith and reason are mutually exclusive. I think there are some cases in which the validity of a claim can be tested with historical evidence.

For example (and I'm hoping this applies), my mind goes to Jesus' prophecy over Jerusalem as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. He said of the city, "there will not be left one stone above another that will not be thrown down" and prophesied its complete destruction by enemies. We know of course that Jerusalem was actually destroyed, so we don't have to just use "blind faith" as its called to believe that something extraordinary happened. So what would you call that? An educated guess? Coincidence?

Kevin Parry said...

Thank you Cobus and gip-k for your comments. I think the biggest issue in debates over 'reason vs faith' is that different sides use different definitions. And reading through my post again, I think that maybe the 'demonstration' aspect of my definition is more akin to the scientific method than reason itself (thank you, Cobus!).

And when someone makes a decision to follow a specific faith, do they it without any reasonable thought behind it at all? Reason might is always used to some degree when making decisions, even about faith (thank you Cori for this one).

Will think about this some more . . .

Laughing Boy said...

I see you're online, Kevin. Hello!

Sorry to do this again but I take issue with your definitions. I think you've given the definition of empiricism rather than reason. And your definition of faith is equally suspect.


empiricism: the doctrine that all knowledge is derived from sense experience.

reason: a. the faculty or power of acquiring intellectual knowledge, either by direct understanding of first principles or by argument.
b. the power of intelligent and dispassionate thought, or of conduct influenced by such thought.

faith: a) confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability. b) belief that is not based on proof.

Can you adjust your argument to more properly juxtapose faith against reason according to their accepted definitions?

Kevin Parry said...


Hi there. We are often not online at the same time.

LB wrote
Sorry to do this again but I take issue with your definitions

No problem at all. This discussion has been valuable to me because, as I said before, there is much debate that occurs where different parties base their arguments on different definitions of ‘faith’ and ‘reason’. Both Cobus and Cori (who I chatted to this morning about this post) took issue with my definition of reason in particular, and after some thinking I tend to agree with them. So I think my post would make more sense if I replaced the word ‘reason’ with ‘empiricism’ (or the scientific method), although some might argue that certain attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, etc) of God are not logical in the context of reason.

But is’s definition of faith any different from mine? The word ‘proof’ is another one of those tricky words, but describes proof as ‘evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true, or to produce belief in its truth’. Evidence is the key word for me here, I guess.

gip-k said...

But is’s definition of faith any different from mine? The word ‘proof’ is another one of those tricky words, but describes proof as ‘evidence sufficient to establish a thing as true, or to produce belief in its truth’. Evidence is the key word for me here, I guess.

You're very right there. Although "proof" and "evidence" may be nearly synonymous in the English dictionary, the connotations of those words are very different. People tend to receive "evidence" as having to do with physical proof, such as the evidence found at a crime scene, whereas "proof" is more popularly used with nonphysical things, as in "proving" mathematical theorems.

I guess if you are searching for physical proof of God's existence, not limited just to "miracles" as we think of them, then there isn't much that would satisfy you. But if you're looking for why a God/or gods might exist, as in, "Why is this a logical conclusion to reach?" then it might be a little easier for you. But in some ways it's hard to have one without the other.

For me, for example, even if I eschewed belief in miracles in the traditional sense or chose not to believe in the Christian God, I find it hard to logically accept the idea of there being no god at all. I see too much order and intelligence present in nature for me to come to the conclusion that no one intelligent created it. In this case, my opinion isn't supported by 100% scientifically verifiable evidence (since science focuses on how things function, not entirely why they function, such as why gravity exists), but I have things that I could use to try and logically prove why I am right.

Brother OMi said...

This is what I tell my students..

1. faith is coming in here thinking you can kick my butt but you have never seen me fight and you have never fought before.

2. reasoning is coming in here watching me fight, going home and working on counters, practicing and working hard to execute those moves, fighting other people, then coming back in here to challenge me. you have proof but that doesn't mean you might win..


Laughing Boy said...

All the words are tricky. "Establish" is especially tricky since we can more readily agree on what counts as evidence than we can on what that evidence establishes. My main issue with your original set-up was that you defined reason in such a way as to be the opposite of faith in order to brand faith as a very bad thing that any thinking person should avoid. Reasonable people exercise faith all the time. Every time we trust a person, whether it be a doctor saying we need to take a pill, or the guy on the street giving us directions, we are acting in faith. What do we usually require in either case for proof? Are we then acting against reason?

Secondly, religion is not the exclusive realm of faith. If your argument works, it works not only against religious faith but faith in any area of life.

Thirdly, "faith" is applied in a very broad sense to religious matters. For example we speak of the Christian faith yet there is much scholarship surrounding many aspects of the faith, e.g., archeology and textual criticism which endeavor to apply the scientific method and reason in support of (or in denial of) factual claims of Christianity. (Christianity, btw, is based on historical events, not moral platitudes.) The Gospel writers, especially Luke, entreat their audience to verify their accounts for themselves. Modern writers like N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, James D. G. Dunn, Alvin Plantinga, Peter Van Inwagen, James V. Schall (to name a few off the top of my head) are renowned for their scholarship. If the Christian faith is about accepting dogma without thinking, then explain why these men and many more do what they do?

You can define faith so that it is opposed to reason. Then you can apply that negative connotation narrowly to religious, especially Christian, faith. But such arguments are non-starters for me or the millions of other Christians who are proud of the intellectual heritage of Christianity (which includes many of the world's greatest thinkers) and who investigate what's open to investigation, ponder what's ponderable, and, as a result, have faith in what remains beyond our understanding.

Sabio Lantz said...

I have posted the definition of "faith" here. The definition you are using is #2 -- it is only one of many definitions (as gip-k points out). Likewise, you are only using one of the definitions of reason (as Cobus points out). I don't think things are as clear cut as you would like them. But certainly, agreeing on a definition is drastically important. But you job is to get your opponent to agree on a definition. Otherwise, you are just patting yourself on the back.

Anonymous said...

No man that is very bad definition of Faith. Better leave defining faith to the people who ascribes to it. The thinking ones of course... :)

It would be good for you to watch The God Delusion Debate between Richard Dawkins & John Lennox.

Dawkins makes the same mistake (as you) with regards to defining faith. This is a common and fundamental mistake in atheism.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Vogel
That is funny. Your Blogger Profile makes the issue clear: It says
"Industry: Religion"

"faith" is just a word and used in many non-religious ways and used to describe religions different than yours.

It is as if I said you can't discuss the definition and scope of science because you must leave that to "people who ascribe to it. The thinking ones of course."

Vogel, click on my link above and see if you think it meets your criterion. Faith has many definitions. This post used only one of them, so I agree with you Dawkins makes this mistake too. But I am an atheist -- Religion is not my industry. I can talk about it and help clarify things too, I think.

CRL said...

A.Vogel: What would be an acceptable definition of faith?

Anonymous said...

So did you knowingly make that same mistake as Dawkins?
How long were you the Christian you say you were?
And how long do you now not believe in God?
Please don't tell me to go read your whole biography, its just 3 questions.

Anonymous said...


Same like Lennox says in that Debate.
I don't want to get into the same things over and over again...
... alot has been said in the debate between. Atheists and Christians.
Even since the days of seemingly intelegent Atheists like Antony Flew we've had such descussions.
What would pop-atheism ad to the mix?

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Vogel

(1) I can't tell who you are addressing 2 comments earlier -- Kevin Parry (post author), CRL, myself or someone else. I know it is easy to get stuff confused on long threads -- I do it all the time. So I am just trying to stay clear.

(2) Did you read the various definitions of Faith, which I offered to help this conversation?

Is that helpful in any way?

CRL said...


The definition Lennox seems to be hinting at is faith as a counterpoint, to science and reason, yet still grounded in reason. Dawkin's response, that if it were grounded in reason, it would not need to be faith, seems accurate. My personal understanding of faith, taken from my current, atheistic, reflections on my past, Christian beliefs, is that faith is something grounded in reason, that goes beyond into things we can't quite prove, that reason must be a jumping-off point for faith. Another role for faith, one in which it is absolutely necessary, is as a jumping-off point for reason. Without a faith in reason, the faith that 1+1=2, and the faith that humans are capable of coming up with correct conclusions, things that must be accepted, arguably without proof, no further thought can occur. God does not fall into this category. A faith in God would be the kind of faith that requires reasonable explanation, as God cannot be known a priori.

What exactly do you mean by pop-atheism?

CyberKitten said...

CRL asked: What exactly do you mean by pop-atheism?

As opposed to 'professional' atheism maybe? That's how I read it...

Sabio Lantz said...

CyberKitten -- I find it ironically funny that your website "Seeking a Little Truth" is completely blank !!
Is that intentional?

I like pop vs professional atheism. Likewise, I would think of pop vs professional religion the same. Some actually make a career out of it. And the pop folks are incredibly sloppy but fun !


Anonymous said...

No I didn't read the defenitions of faith... I just realy wanted to give my two cents worth...
I don't believe 1+1=2.
I believe 1=1 but thats another topic, but its our faith in maths that led us here so I might as well leave you to it.
Thanks for replying any-ways.

CyberKitten said...

Sabio said: CyberKitten -- I find it ironically funny that your website "Seeking a Little Truth" is completely blank !!
Is that intentional?

You should see two identical Blogs - One has content & one is blank (by accident). I'm afraid to delete the blank one in case it deletes both (or I press the wrong button). Try the other one...

Kevin Parry said...

Sabio Lantz wrote
Did you read the various definitions of Faith, which I offered to help this conversation?

Thank you for linking this up. I agree that there are many definitions, but my post is only focusing definition #2 in your post. I could be wrong, but Hebrews 11:1 seems to define faith in this way, and this is the one verse that seems to be quoted a lot when faith is defined within Christian circles.

But I like CRL’s comment that faith and reason are dependent on each other: first, that faith is grounded in reason, but then moves beyond reason into those things that we cannot prove; and second, that each of us have faith to some degree that we live in a reality that exists beyond our minds, and that we can reach correct conclusions about this reality (both are assumptions we need to hold in order to reason). In other words, reason itself is based somewhat on an element of faith. Am I stating this correctly?

I think I can begin to accept this kind relationship between faith and reason, that both are needed. But I think the mistake that many apologists’ make is that they assume that both these kinds of faith are equal. As I’ve argued before, I don’t think they are.

Thanks for all the comments.

Sabio Lantz said...

I think we agree:

* all beliefs have emotions connected to them

* all people use trust as a bases of many beliefs

* reason always has limitations

* faith is a word used in many ways

Thus, I think we both agree that the common "faith vs reason" dichotomy is false. Instead, we should simply talk about kinds of evidence and amount of evidence. To keep things clear, it may help to leave "faith" and "reason" out of the conversation and simply focus on evidence.

Does that state our agreements?

(PS - I loved the shopping cart drawing in your other post !)

Kevin Parry said...

Sabio Lantz wrote
I think we both agree that the common "faith vs reason" dichotomy is false

Not at the moment. First off, let us agree that we are specifically focusing on definition #2, as per Hebrews 11:1. This only makes sense in this kind of debate. I totally agree that the word ‘faith’ has many definitions, and – other than definition #2 – I have no issue with those definitions. So let us leave those behind and talk more about definition #2.

I would also add that, although reason and faith are not totally separate from each other, I don’t think the dichotomy is false per se (of course, this depends of the definition of reason, which we haven’t yet talked about). Conflicts can arise, I think. For example, reason would suggest (based on my experience of how things work and knowledge of the natural world) that there is a high probability that water cannot instantly turn into wine. There are many who believe that water did turn into wine at one point in history, but they can’t provide a reasonable explanation for this occurrence. Instead, they believe by faith. Do you think this is a good example of conflict?

Reason always has limitations

Could you describe these limitations? This would help me to understand what definition you are adopting.

Thanks again.


Sabio Lantz said...

we probably agree.
it all depends on the definition of faith and the definition of reason. Have you seen my site?
I am not invested in the word "faith" and don't really use it.
I understand "hope" and "trust" and such.
Remember, I am not Christian.
Thanx. Hope let's you see my position.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Sabio

I've enjoyed reading your blog, thank you! I was hoping that you would share your definition of reason, as I'm interested to know your thoughts on the issue.

But thanks again for the for discussion. I hope to see more comments from you in future.

Doug said...

Personally, I don't see the antithesis between faith and reason. Rather, I consider these terms in the context of antinomy. We constantly use faith to make assumptions we cannot derive using the senses or other rational modes. Even in the context of science, faith is often required as most scientists will admit. Atheism is forced to make faith assumptions drawing the conslusion, "because I cannot derive it, it must not exist." See the flawed logic in this determination? This is certainly not a response derived solely by reason but involves faith on the part of the adherant. Any serious student of this subject should read The Reason for God by Timothy Keller and the Language of God by Francis Collins. Tim Keller explores faith from a rationalistic perspective and Francis Collins (scientist in charge of the human genome project) explores faith in the context of science.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Kevin
Thanx for reading -- leave a comment sometime ! Reason is a hard thing to define. I won't be working on it soon but would love it if you came up with a list of definitions.

Meanwhile, I wish we had different words for these three kinds of faith (each with less evidence):
1) faith based on scant evidence
2) faith based on no evidence
3) faith based on almost overwhelming counter evidence

I indeed feel many Christians would buy into #3.
In fact, I think that all of us have all kinds of beliefs like that.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Doug

Thank you for your comment. You’ve raised very good points.

See the flawed logic in this determination?

Yes, I do. You are absolutely right in this regard. But as I’ve said before, I don’t claim that God is absolutely impossible (which would require ‘faith’). Rather, my own position is closer to holding the view that the existence of God (the one described by the Bible) is largely unevidenced, and thus improbable. This is due to two reasons: (1) that religious claims don’t tend to fit very well with my own experience and our current knowledge of how the world works, and (2) that current arguments put forward by apologists in support of religious claims are not yet convincing enough. God might exist, but his existence is not yet ‘clear enough’, if you get my meaning.

In other words, I don’t hold onto a position of absolute certainty regarding God’s non-existence, but make a decision based on uncertain knowledge regarding his existence. A subtle difference, but it is a difference in which I acknowledge my lack of knowledge. So I conclude, without making a ‘faith jump’ either way, that there are no convincing reasons yet to entertain belief in God. In other words, until further evidence is in, there is no need to spend energy and time acknowledging God’s existence - in thought, deed, or word.

Faith is often required as most scientists will admit
Can you provide some examples?

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller and the Language of God by Francis Collins
I’m sure these books are really good, but I have not read them yet myself. If it is possible, and if you are keen, can you briefly list their main arguments, for the sake of those who might be reading this comment section?

Hi Sabio

Thanks for coming back. I’m sitting at the airport at the moment just about to catch a flight, but I will get back to your comment at the end of this week.


Sabio Lantz said...

@ Kevin & Doug

I think there is some sense (remember, these are just words) where we can say Kevin has taken the leap of faith to DISBELIEVE in YhWh.

Yes, yes, he wants to emphasize that he is a skeptic. Wow, he is so cool, he even admits that he is not 100% certain there is no god. But hell, that is saying nothing because no one is 100% certain of anything. So we can move on.

But Kevin is CERTAIN ENOUGH to not go to church, baptize any future children to protect their souls, give money to a church, spend times with eyes squinted shut having a one-way dialogue with an imaginary ghost. He has decided to not do all the things others have told him he should do in fear of his eternal security. Heck, I'd call that believing.

It is that same certainty that has me no drink from a well in India, not rub my wounds in the dirt, come inside during a lightening storm.

So, though Kevin does not have 100% certainty, he makes the leap to have the amount of certainty to stop doing certain things. Calling it "faith" or not does not change the decision process we go through. We don't have to fight over words.

Anonymous said...


You stated,"the existence of God is largely unevidenced, and thus improbable." I'm curious then about how you would respond to Corduan's cosmological argument, which I outlined and defended in a previous post of yours (your post was entitled "The Birth of a Snowflake"). I believe this argument adequately demonstrates that there is sufficient physical evidence for a rational person to believe in God, and to even arrive at monotheism. What are your thoughts on this?


Sabio Lantz said...

Blogspot (in contrast to wonderful Wordpress) does not offer a search widgit, does it. I can't search Kevin's blog for the snowflake post.
And I am not about to start back reading ! Smile.

Anonymous said...

The snowflake post was written on Nov. 26, 2008.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Anonymous (and come on chap, give yourself a name !)

Concerning your favorite support for an intervening, controlling, damning deity:

1. Something Exists (sure, let's go with that)
2. Each thing that exists is either necessary or contingent. Not sure where that comes from?
3. A necessary being must be a god. Well, must a necessary THING be a god? Even if such a thing exists, in does not have to be omnipresent, infinite. I don't think. And it CERTAINLY does not need to be all-loving, all-knowing, intervening. So this thing, would not have to be anything like the mythical yhwy.
4. Sure, the world could be self-creating. Causality is still very poorly understood. Quantum Mechanics have shown us how confused our common sense may actually be.

5. I don't get why two identical necessary THINGS (not beings -- you are sneaking in personhood) can't be possible.

6. Confused, given all the false assumptions of the previous.

I care not to get into this debate though, I just wanted to point out that it is far from obvious. And besides, no one embraces their religion based on these arguments but only use them later to try and support the allegiances.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for taking the time to read and quickly respond to the arguments. I am aware that you "care not to get into this debate." However, I feel inclined to respond to some of your misunderstandings of the argument in order to clarify for others who may be reading. Please feel no obligation to respond further if you care not to.

Concerning point #2, you expressed confusion as to why everything that exists must be either necessary or contingent. As described, a necessary being is something completely independent of outside influence or causes, while a contingent being is something whose existence and nature is dependent on outside forces. Anything that we can identify or imagine must fall into one of those two categories. If this is not true, what would the third option be? Can you name anything that would not be either necessary or contingent?

Your objections to points 3-5 are actually further discussed in the orginal comment thread on the post, so I will not reiterate the responses here unless you have a particular follow-up question.

However, you also stated above that "this thing, would not have to be anything like the mythical yhwy." Perhaps, but the argument is not attempting to make the case for YHWH, so that is a non-issue at this stage. I will point out, however, that there is nothing derived from this argument that would mitigate the likelihood of the biblical God; in fact, the opposite is true.

You seem to also take issue with whether we should use the term "thing" or "being," indicating that "being" unfairly suggests a personality. Very well, substitute the word "thing" for "being" in the argument; I don't think it really affects any of the rationalistic principles at stake.

Finally, you stated that "no one embraces their religion based on these arguments but only use[s] them later to try and support the allegiances." Actually, I know of many personal cases to the contrary, in which such arguments were an instrumental vehicle in bringing people to faith. I acknowledge, however, that you may simply have not yet met any such people.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Cosmo (AKA, "Anonymous", but until you take a real name I will call you "Cosmo")

(1) you set up "necessary" and "contingent" as categories. But both of those depend on some notion of causality. And as I said, causality, when it comes to creation of time-space itself is a huge question. Not to mention some of the oddities of quantum mechanics. So these may be false categories.

(2) If you are not trying to support an existence of a YHWH type thing, then just call it the "Necessary Thing Argument" and otherwise, in a sly way, by using the word "God" you are trying to sneak in all sorts of other connotations.

(3) That is interesting that you know people that became Christians simply by force of the "Necessary Thing Argument" --- but the skeptic in me makes me think there was a lot more stuff already ripe in their heads with perhaps that argument making them intellectually comfortable.

(4) Also, we don't have any evidence to show that there can't be something like an infinite causal chain and thus no beginning or end. Counter-intuitive, of course, but quantum mechanics & relativity have proven to us the limit of our natural intuitions.

(5) Also, I think the standard reply is why should we be intuitively comfortable (if you are playing the intuitive game) with a necessary thing -- since we have never seen one and it makes no sense since everything we see is contingent, then expecting infinite contingency seems rather "logical". For to expect some thing with no cause is equally unsatisfactory in intuitive terms.

Again, people have written books on this on both sides of the argument -- bright people. Let's say that in the future someone shows it works, remember, it would only work for some necessary THING which does not have to care at all about humans. It doesn't have to interact with the world at all, it does not have to be omnipresent and all that other stuff.

OK, bed time.

Anonymous said...


Thanks again for your insightful feedback. By the way, you can call me Phil; I usually identify myself as such in my comments (although I see I forgot to do so in my comment above-- sorry about that). That being said, I'll respond to your latest remarks.

You accused me of "using the word 'God'... to sneak in all sorts of other connotations," and suggested that the argument should be called the "Necessary Thing Argument." It doesn't matter what you call it; the point is that a necessary thing by definition would have to be a supreme entity, completely unlimited, unrestricted, and uncaused. Something that possesses these qualities would be called "God" by most people's definition; i.e., when people say they don't believe in God, they are usually saying they don't believe that a being with these qualities exists. I am comfortable with the term "God" in the argument because that's the most universally understood label for such a being. You may use whatever label makes you most comfortable.

Concerning the many people who have placed faith in God via rationalistic arguments such as these, you stated, "the skeptic in me makes me think there was a lot more stuff already ripe in their heads with perhaps that argument making them intellectually comfortable." Your comment here is not only purely speculative since you indicated you've never met such persons, but is also ultimately unhelpful in determining the inherent merits of the argument at stake. It is a borderline ad hominem logical fallacy.

Also, I believe you are overemphasizing the reliability of quantum mechanics, a discipline which is highly theoretical and and perhaps even more controversial, even within the established scientific community, and especially with those who specialize in scienctific philosophy. If you can provide some detail as to how this field has done anything concrete to mitigate the argument's position on infinite regression, that might be helpful.

You also stated, "people have written books on this on both sides of the argument -- bright people." I agree with that, but can you recommend a book that effectively dismantles Corduan's argument? I haven't found one yet.

Kevin, I am also still interested in your thoughts on this; I always value your perspective and input.


Sabio Lantz said...

@ Phil (Anonymous with a bad memory)

BTW, I enjoy your pleasant writing style and it is easy to write back to you. This is kind of fun to see how far we can go on this.

(1) You should write "Phil" in the name section when you add the comment.

(2) You used the word "being" again. We must keep this clean. Smile ! So we agree not to use "God" or "Being" because both come with inappropriate connotations for what the argument is trying to prove, that is, "a thing". Let's put it in all caps to keep it special. I'm sure you are familar with the danger of connotations in debates -- especially in the Fallacy of Equivocation. So, can we please stick to "THING".

(3) Further, I have not studied this, but I think you are over zealous in the attributes you want to ascribe to this THING. I think the thing only has to be uncaused. There are no other conditions. I am curious what qualities must accompany "uncaused". I don't see why "supreme" or "completely unlimited" or "unrestricted". And as I wrote earlier, but you never addressed, it does not have to be "omnipresent" or "infinite". All the THING had to do was start things something going which then kept going. No continual intervention needed. No omnipresence, no supremehoodness, no need to be completely unlimited etc. It seems the argument by some try to slip that in because it better approximates their god. Am I mistaken?
So, if the argument works, all it shows is a THING which starts things rolling which seems to be way less than you'd like.

(4) Look, I told you I believe that this argument worked converting other folks. I am speculating, but it is immaterial to the discussion. Let's stick to the discussion.

(5) Concerning the quantum mechanics thing. Let's just settle number 2 and 3 above first -- I think that would be a huge beginning.

Phil said...

Thanks for the great discussion, Sabio, and I apologize for not addressing all of your questions in my previous response (I'm usually writing with a very limited time frame, and find it difficult to get everything in). I am also taking your advice by writing 'Phil' in the name section... I actually never bothered to look at that before, thanks.

Regarding your point number 2 above, I need to clarify that I do not find it at all inappropriate to use the term "necessary being," rather than "necessary thing." What I stated earlier was that you could substitute the word "thing" if you like without affecting the argument. Webster defines the word "being" as "the quality or state of having existence." So, this word in its purest form does not suggest a conscious, personal individual as you have asserted, but merely indicates something that is. Technically, a computer or chair qualifies as a "being" as well. To honor your request, however, I will try to stick to using the word "thing" instead. Just please show me grace if I slip up; I'm used to saying "being" because that is what Corduan uses and I think it is appropriate.

In your point 3 above, you stated, "I don't see why 'supreme' or 'completely unlimited' or 'unrestricted' [should apply to a necessary thing]... it does not have to be 'omnipresent' or 'infinite.' Actually, it has to be all those things, or else we are dealing with a contingent thing, not a necessary one. If something can be affected by outside forces or influences such as time, space, pressure, temperature, etc., it is by definition contingent. Remember, the definition of a necessary thing as stated in the original argument is "something totally independent of everything else." Something omnipresent would not be dependent on the influence of space-time, something omnipotent would not be suject or dependent upon any outside forces or conditions for its ongoing existence, etc. These traits are intrinsic to the defintion established at the onset of the argument. The idea you are suggesting--that of an uncaused thing that is subject to outside influence (i.e. contingent)-- is self-defeating, because this would suggest that other things/beings already existed from the onset to which the thing is question was subject to. This concept is not logically viable. Hopefully you are beginning to see why the definition for a necessary being is what it is; there is no logical alternative.


Sabio Lantz said...

Hey Phil,

(1) I think words are only tools. Therefore agreement on words is critical. I think "being" in common usage carries connotations of a living thing, thus I prefer "THING". You may find one definition that does not contain that and qualify by saying "technically ..." but you see, that is exactly where connotations sneak in and confuse the argument by inviting the Fallacy of Equivocation (In case you are not familiar, here are some links: Stephen's Guide, Fallacy Files ).

I just wanted to be sure you understood I was not trying to be capricious, but judicious and precise. So I thank you for your cooperation so we can progress.

(2) I guess I am being a little dull here. I really don't see who an uncaused thing must be "completely unlimited" or "unrestricted". Can't an uncaused thing cause something and then be vulnerable to change. I see nothing in a THING that has no beginning and cause other things to exists as also needing to be unaffectable, unlimited or such.

I'll tell you what: In your next comment, copy and past Corduan's Cosmological Argument and I will post it on my site and we can continue there. I don't want to hijack this thread any further.


Phil said...


Thanks for your latest comments. Regarding the "being" semantic debate, I do not think my usage of that term falls under the fallacy of equivocation as you have suggested. To borrow your phrase, the best way we can be "judicious and precise" is to use words according to their formally given definitions (such as those found in legitimate dictionaries), not by pandering to people's various misunderstandings about terms (if we did too much of that, vocabulary itself would become meaningless). I do not think the term "being" automatically carries with it the connotation of something living unless it accompanies an adjective, such as the phrase "human being" or "living being." The very existence of these phrases demonstrates that not all beings are necessarily alive. Therefore, I stand by my usage of the term and do not think it is misleading in the argument (though, as I said, I will try to refrain from using it for your sake).

Also, you have asked, "Can't an uncaused thing cause something and then be vulnerable to change?" Again, we would then be talking about a contingent thing and not a necessary one. Anything that can be affected or altered by something else must also, of necessity, require some sort of conditioned environment to remain unaltered. Since the necessary thing in question would have existed before "environments" themselves existed, such a thing would have to transcend the need for environment and space-time via the unlimited characteristics previously discussed. If this still does not make sense to you, I recommend Corduan's book; he does a much more thorough job explaining it than I have time to do.

I appreciate your invitation to move this discussion to another forum, but as long as Kevin is okay with it, I prefer to keep it here. I'm still hoping he'll chime in at some point.


Sabio Lantz said...



1. person: a human individual

2. existence: the state of existing
the turbulent years during which the new nation came into being

3. essential nature: somebody's essential nature or character
loved the child with all her being

4. living thing: a living thing, especially one conceived of as supernatural or not living on Earth


I must say, after your last note, I may have lost my motivation to discuss with you.

Phil said...

Thanks for finding and posting that definition, Sabio. While the msn definition is a bit of an anomaly (compare it with most other online dictionaries) and does not reflect the usual primary formal definition of the term, your point is noted; though, as I said before, it changes none of the rationalistic principles at stake in the argument.

I understand it takes some time and energy to continue this discussion, so I completely understand if you wish to discontinue.

Sabio Lantz said...

Here is what I find frustrating discussing with you. If you can't see clearly the fact that the Equivocation Fallacy is not a problem of, as you call it, "the primary definition" (which does not exist), but of all mixing of various existing definitions. Then I can't imagine when I discuss with you the limitations of the word "necessary" as compared to "uncaused" or the subtleties of quantum mechanics we will make any progress at all.

Here are more examples for you showing that the MSN defintion is NOT a bit of an anomaly. I hope you can see my frustration with your style.



1. a living creature.
2. the state or fact of existence, consciousness, or life, or something in such a state.
3. (philosophy) that which has actuality (materially or in concept).
4. (philosophy) one's basic nature, or the qualities thereof; essence or personality.

1. the fact of existing; existence (as opposed to nonexistence).

2. conscious, mortal existence; life: Our being is as an instantaneous flash of light in the midst of eternal night.

3. substance or nature: of such a being as to arouse fear.

4. something that exists: inanimate beings.

5. a living thing: strange, exotic beings that live in the depths of the sea.

6. a human being; person: the most beautiful being you could imagine.

7. (initial capital letter) God.

8. Philosophy.
a. that which has actuality either materially or in idea.
b. absolute existence in a complete or perfect state, lacking no essential characteristic; essence.



1. The state or fact of existing: "a point of view gradually coming into being"; "laws in existence for centuries".

2. A living (or once living) entity that has (or can develop) the ability to act or function independently.

Phil said...


I'm not sure what point you are trying to demonstrate here, since I have already conceded that we may substitute the word "thing" anywhere in the argument that you take issue with "being." Even two of the three definitions you included above list "existence" as the only essential trait for a "being" in their primary definitions. I acknowledge that other secondary definitions may suggest a living thing, but it is far from fallacious or underhanded of me to use that term without suggesting any reference to life. Ultimately, this is a tangent semantic issue not related to the cosmological argument, and one which I was willing to concede to and move beyond several comments ago, so I'm not sure why it remains your main point of contention. I look forward to any new light you can shed on your position, if you are willing.


Sabio Lantz said...

Even two of the three definitions you included above list "existence" as the only essential trait for a "being" in their primary definitions.

As I said earlier, there is no such thing as a "primary definition" -- that is not how words work. So my insistence on understanding the danger of the equivocation fallacy is crucial for us continuing. And your persistent repeating of "primary definition" shows you are not listening (which is why I am about to give up discussing -- I need you to listen and not be on a mission).

I am unable to discern why you persist on saying "Well, I will go with you but I am right." I need you to see that my insistence is completely logical. If you don't, I don't think we can proceed. OR, of course, you can offer a substantial rebuttal. But "primary definition" is way off the mark and I need you to see that. I need you to truly understand the equivocation fallacy.

So, if that is all settled we can move on to the next question:

Can we substitute the word "uncaused" for "necessary"? Are they equivalent for you? Again, the word "necessary" carries too much baggage. I think half the problem with the Cosmological argument is the verbal baggage. So for me it is important to strip it down to its essential form.

Mind you, even if the cosmological argument works, it is no where close to giving a god like yhwh. I am pretty sure you disagree. But we really need to go slow to get there. And most likely we will stall along the way. But I will try a little longer.

So, do you understand my point on definitions and are you ready to stop trying to get the last word in on that?

Then you can answer my second question about substituting "uncaused" for "unnecessary".

Also, you never quoted so & so's Cosmological Argument for us as I requested.

Phil said...

Hi again Sabio,

You stated, "there is no such thing as a primary definition." I disagree. Primary means "first" (either first in sequence, first in importance, or both), so by that phrase I am referring to the first definition listed in a dictionary for a given word (as I'm sure you know, the ordering of definitions in dictionaries is not arbitrary; they are usually listed in order of common usage or prevalance). Therefore, it is entirely warranted for me to make reference to a "primary definition" of a given term. You have yet to demonstrate how Corduan's usage of the word "being" consititues anything but a warranted and rational use of the term. This is why I'm saying (to borrow your phrase), "Well, I will go with you but I am right."

To answer your second question, no, I do not believe we can substitute the word "uncaused" for "necessary" and the argument never attempts to do so. Being uncaused is merely one characteristic of a necessary thing.

Regarding your final comment about re-posting the full argument, I did not do so because, as I said, I'd rather continue the discussion here than move it to another site. However, if you'd like to re-post it on your site anyway, I will post it again as a separate comment. Keep in mind this is only my attempted summary of Corduan's argument; you'd have to go to his book for the more developed version.


Phil said...

1. Something exists. Hopefully, we can all agree with that. Whether it's your computer screen, your best friend, microscopic bacteria, or the galaxy, hardly anyone would deny that existence is a reality (there are some eastern faiths that deny the existence of matter, but probably no one reading is in that camp. Besides, even their ideas about non-existence, in essence, "exist").

2. Each thing that exists is either necessary or contingent. Contingent means "dependent on something else" while necessary means "totally independent of anything else." Each thing in existence must be either one or the other; it cannot be both. A contingent being is caused, sustained, and determined by outside forces. If a necessary being exists, it does so independently of any outside influence including time and space.

3. If a necessary being exists, it would have to be God. Such a being would neither require nor be compelled or limited by any other beings or forces. Therefore, a necessary being, by definition, would be independent, infinite, eternal (unrestricted by time), omnipresent (unrestricted by space), unchangeable, and in possession of all its properties in an equally unlimited way (obviously, slime creatures from the planet Zerg would fall short of these characteristics). Regardless of what you call it, a necessary being would have all the properties normally associated with what is often called "God."

4. The world cannot be a necessary being. To believe this is a pantheistic view, which is logically impossible (I'm not sure any pantheists are reading, but if so, we could have a separate discussion on that). In any event, every examinable phenomena in our world (regardless of how old the earth is) has a cause; the world itself is a contingent being.

5. There can only be one necessary being. If two things are distinct from each other, they must differ in some respect. If they don't, they must be one in the same thing (this is called the principle of the identity of indiscernibles). Therefore, if God does exist, there is only one God (i.e., polytheism is impossible).

6. Unless there is a necessary being, there cannot be any contingent beings. If I have a cup of coffee and you wanted to know where I got it, it would not satisfy you if I said I poured it into my cup from another cup. In fact, the coffee may have been poured from cup-to-cup a hundred times, but you'd know that somewhere in history past, there is a coffee maker somewhere that produced the coffee. The coffee could not have been poured from cup-to-cup for eternity past because the law of infinite regress is impossible (this is a well-attested assertion in science and philosophy). In the same way, the chain of contingent beings in our universe can go back in history for a long time, but ultimately, a necessary being is required to have begun the chain. An endless chain of contingent events is metaphysically impossible; you cannot give what you do not have.

7. A necessary being exists. Since the existence of contingent beings (our universe) necessarily requires a necessary being, it can be concluded that such a being must exist.

8. God exists. Since a necessary being would have to possess the attributes of what we'd normally call "God," (see step 3) and a necessary being exists, then God exists.

Sabio Lantz said...

Ah, it is easy then, in #6 it seems he makes uncaused things equal to necessary things. His argument is begging the question.

Done. (I think)

Phil said...


You are not fully understanding the argument. An uncaused thing of necessity must possess limitless traits. Establishing that something is uncaused indicates that it transcends environment, conditions, or outside influence; it speaks of its inherent nature, not just its origin (or lack thereof). While it is true that this thing is uncaused, reason insists this is too narrow a definition at which to leave it. This is what I was trying to explain several comments ago; and again, Corduan develops this thought even more completely in the book. Therefore, the term "necessary thing" is employed to describe the thing in question. Many people would simply rather call it God, and I see no reason why this would be unacceptable either.


Sabio Lantz said...


Sorry, it still does not seem logical to me.

I can understand 3 sorts of THINGS in the world in terms of causation:

a) other-caused
b) self-caused
c) un-caused

Of course, as far as I understand, every THING I am aware of on a large scale is other-caused. But I understand quantum theory to offer other models.

I see no reason that all THINGS that came into existence could not be caused by b) or c) or even a).

So, the "causedness" of something, is key in this discussion.

To add a new term call "necessity" seems unnecessary? (pun intended)

Because "necessity" is a term carrying connotations the pollute the discussion because of the obvious temptation of equivocation fallacy. With "necessity" comes notions of all sorts of things as you can see in this your mentor's argument.

An un-caused or self-causing thing does not have to be infinite, omnipresent, unchangeable (it could change after causing other things), nor would it have to be unlimited. All these are snuck into the argument. So I think it falls apart unless you can show us why "uncaused" necessitates such qualities. [see, let's use necessity in the normal way].

I will not read Corduan's book, so you must produce the argument. And I must say, I need you to read carefully what I have written and respond directly to it. I have written this earlier and am tiring of repeating myself.

Thank you

Phil said...


You stated, "as far as I understand, every THING I am aware of on a large scale is other-caused." Yes, and the argument has demonstrated that an infinite chain of such contingent things is logically irrational. You also stated, "I understand quantum theory to offer other models." Could you elaborate on what other models you are referring to, and how they mitigate the position on infinite regression established in the argument? You are making assertions here without any rationale evidence (not even faulty evidence). In addition to vague references to quantum mechanics, you need to demonstrate how your position is stronger or more probable than that which you are arguing against.

You also stated, "An un-caused or self-causing thing does not have to be infinite, omnipresent, unchangeable..." I feel I have already sufficiently argued otherwise on this thread, and you have not effectively demonstrated how my argumentation is faulty. Instead you have made the same assertion repeatedly with no new evidence. I understand why you are tired of repeating yourself.

I know a lot of books get recommended in discussions like these, and it's impossible to read everything that is suggested, but you are truly doing yourself an intellectual (and I believe, spiritual) disservice by willfully refusing to better understand Corduan's argument in his book (which, by the way, takes the discussion far beyond our current argument and into the particulars of the Christian faith). If you want to settle for me instead if Corduan, I'm fine with that.


Sabio Lantz said...

Conversation is over Phil. You avoid my questions when they get tough and prefer diversion instead. Good luck getting others to engage you.

Phil said...

I'm sorry you feel that way, Sabio, though I'm uncertain which question you feel I've avoided. I'll re-read our comments and try to see if I've missed something. I'll enjoy discussing with you again sometime if you ever feel like it. Thanks for you time!


Kevin Parry said...

Hi Phil and Sabio

Sorry to come it at this late stage – the last two weeks have been the busiest of the year for me, so I haven’t had a chance before now to read your discussion.

I will admit up front that I don’t think I have sufficient skills to provide adequate responses to the more sophisticated versions of the cosmological argument. I think this partly due to the fact that I haven’t had any formal philosophical training, and partly because I battle to grasp abstract concepts in general.

Be that as it may, I do have a comment about Corduan's excellent argument. Thank you Phil for summarizing it so well.

I was thinking: is a sentient ‘necessary being’ totally free from contingent characteristics? Take thought for example. If a necessary being created the universe, then one would think that this being had reasons to make that decision. If this being had reasons, then one would expect that this being possessed some kind of thought process, of one thought leading to another thought, that led up to it making the decision to create the universe. If the being is infinite and unchanged, then it would have possessed an infinite regress of thoughts leading up to its decision to create the universe. If an infinite regress is impossible, then the being’s thought process – its very mind – would itself be a result of another ‘meta-first cause’, or ‘meta-necessary being’. In other words, I see a problem in holding the premise that an infinite regress is impossible, but at the same time positing an infinite being that has any kind of attributes.

The problem is this: to make any sense of a possible ‘necessary being’ we are forced to apply contingent attributes onto it (as I have done with the words ‘decision’ and ‘thought’ above), because we, as humans, are completely limited in the sense that we have never, ever, experienced anything that is remotely ‘necessary’, and thus cannot find any non-contingent meaningful way in which to understand it. This is where I see the biggest problem with all philosophical arguments for and against cosmological discussion: we are all at a major disadvantage, in that we are using expressions, words, definitions, logic, argument, experience and concepts that all exist and have meaning within the confines of this universe. Is it not a mistake, for theist and atheist alike, to take all these things – that work well within this universe – and then uncritically apply them to the universe as a whole? We have no idea if these have any meaning ‘outside of the universe’, if an ‘outside’ does indeed exist. I agree with Sabio that there is a lot of baggage that underline cosmological arguments, but this isn’t religious baggage. It is simply the unavoidable baggage of being contingent beings, self contained and cognitively trapped within the confines of this universe.

This is what I was thinking while reading your fascinating discussion. Hope it spurs some more thought.

Kevin Parry said...

Sabio wrote:
But Kevin is CERTAIN ENOUGH to not go to church

You are right: I do possess some confidence that results in me not doing certain things, like not praying. But this confidence is not the result of me secretly being certain that God does not exist. Rather, it is the result of me being confident that I do not find current evidence put forward for the existence of God convincing.

In other words, my confidence is based on the view that it is perfectly rational and fine to not invest money, time, or belief in a claim that is not supported by convincing evidence, even though it might turn out to be true later on. We all apply this standard to some degree to the many claims we come across in everyday life, from fortune tellers to car salesmen. This isn’t faith, it’s just common sense.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Kevin
Sorry, I lost track of the faith issue. I guess we'll just leave it. I doubt we disagree. It is probably just language and emphasis.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Kevin

I liked your "divine thoughts" spin on the argument. Very creative.

Phil said...


Welcome back, and I completely understand about your busy schedule. Hope all is going well.

Thanks for your very interesting thoughts on the argument. It's great to see how so many people I've interacted with approach this from a different angle.

To briefly respond to your point, I believe the infinite regression principle only applies to physical things, and not to reasoning faculties of a thing which transcends physical environment. Since the necessary thing in question transcends (and even precedes) a space-time environment, I don't think we can rightly restrict the nature such a thing's thought processes to the manner in which our reasoning and decision-making functions in a space-time universe. Perhaps this is why the Bible tells us in Isaiah 55 that God's ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts, and that they are, in fact "higher than" our ways and thoughts.


Michael Gormley said...

Rather, it is the result of me being confident that I do not find current evidence put forward for the existence of God convincing.

"The Catholic Church ", says the Vatican Council, III, iv, "has always held that there is a twofold order of knowledge, and that these two orders are distinguished from one another not only in their principle but in their object; in one we know by natural reason, in the other by Divine faith; the object of the one is truth attainable by natural reason, the object of the other is mysteries hidden in God, but which we have to believe and which can only be known to us by Divine revelation ."