The Convergence Problem: The Next Best Argument for Atheism

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Courtesy of Spkaa.com

Are you ready to answer the convergence problem? This may be the second strongest argument for atheism, next to the problem of evil, since this argument doesn’t require much effort or evidence on the part of atheists. It’s pretty much just a challenge to apologists and Christians to prove that their different reasons for believing in God all point to the same God? Do our theistic arguments converge?

Customarily, Christian apologists argue for God’s existence using a battery of well-worn arguments like the First-Cause Argument (Cosmological arg.), the Design Argument (Teleological Argument), and the Moral Argument. Sometimes the arguments are about Christianity more specifically, such as Resurrection Apologetics. But where among these arguments do they converge? Are we accidentally arguing for 2, 3, or more different grand characters without ever showing they are the same God?

Here are a few responses to this Convergence Problem

1) Ockham’s Razor
Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to resolve the convergence problem is by using William of Ockham’s simple axiom, Ockham’s Razor. In short, this axiom says we should not multiply causes unnecessarily. In other words, don’t make things more complicated than necessary. Ockham’s razor is not an argument, it’s not even concrete evidence. It’s just an operating principle in weighing evidence and argument that seems to work well enough to be a useful way to keep our philosophical and scientific projects manageable. Often, the simplest solution is the most likely one. Sure, it’s possible that the moral argument, the design argument, and the first-cause argument are all pointing to different characters in a pantheon of gods but unless the skeptic gives us a reason to think this, then we are justified, by Ockham’s razor, in assuming that they are more likely the same character–monotheism.

2) Inborn Convergence
The various theological arguments may or may not overlap; it depends on which arguments one is using. Some of them, can have a sort of “inborn convergence” where they seem to be pointing to the same character. A clear example would be arguments for Biblical integrity and arguments for the Resurrection–these seem to be pointing to the same set of claims about the Deity and Saving work of Christ. But other arguments don’t obviously converge, or they need another tool or key to bring them together.

To illustrate how this inborn convergence might work, consider the notion of teleology. Teleology refers to “final causes,” also known as “goal-directed behavior.” (final causes are “goals” not just “results,” goals are causes but results are effects). With teleology as our key, the Moral, First-Cause, and Design arguments can overlap so that one character satisfies all of them. According to the “big three” arguments mentioned at the outset, the cosmos did not just “begin” but began in a specific way that made a finely-tuned and life-sustaining universe possible as well as eventuating rightful moral goals for humanity (i.e,. teleology–“final causes”/goal-directedness) such as justice, joy, beneficence, etc.

Teleology in the Cosmological Argument: The universe cannot have emerged from nothing unless it was by a personal cause, i.e., a being that did not act mechanistically but teleologically (goal-directedness) and by choice. If the causes of the universe were mechanistic it would be something like a bubble from a boiling pot, as long as the conditions are met, unverses will keep popping up. But since there is only one universe which we know about, and only one universe for which we have evidence, we are justified in believing, prima facie, that there’s only one universe. How then can a universe arise only once if, mechanistically, the prior conditions (nothingness/vacuum/gravity–depending on who’s theorizing here) would generate universes over and over against in an infinite series? It can’t. The cosmological argument implies teleology.

Teleology in the Design Argument: This one’s easy; the ties to teleology are pretty straightforward.  The design argument suggests that there are evidences of design which we are familiar with, and readily accept–such as a criminals “intent” in a crime scene, or an ancient well dug for the “purpose” of getting water. Now we find comparable or superior design-like examples in biology, chemistry, and the cosmos–yet no human intelligence could have caused these–so we reason that there must be a sufficient designer to account for these. Now all that talk of “design” is also teleology, since teleology is goal-directedness and most every example of design distinguishes itself by the apparent goals which it serves–such as a watch (to tell time), a trumpet (to be played musically), or a well (to get water). When we find teleology in nature, and that “goal-directedness” is the sort that can be called “design” (such as irreducible complexity, specified complexity, or fine tuning) we have a teleological argument for a designer. Whenever that “designer” is beginning to look more like a supernatural or, at least, unimaginably intelligent being that “design” argument can be an argument for God.

Teleology in the Moral Argument: Teleology indeed refers to “goals” but not necessarily outcomes. I could light a firecracker in my hand for the “goal” of entertainment but the outcome, instead, is a bloody stump. One may fail or succeed in achieving one’s goals, but make no mistake “outcomes” are a different category that only sometimes overlaps with goal-directedness. This point is critical because in ethics it’s important to distinguish teleology from the popular ethical categories that deal in outcomes, as if “results/consequences/ends” are the only moral values to worry about. The moral argument deals heavily in teleology but not in consequentialism or utilitarianism; teleology is about goals, the other two are about outcomes–irrespective of goals. The moral argument can dovetail with the design and first-cause arguments when morality is taken as a kind of design intended by the designer. The moral argument refers to moral goals by which we are measured, and which are imparted by God, the moral foundation for all goodness. God grounds and imparts the moral laws which we are to obey; if we fail to achieve these goals that is “bad” if we succeed at this goal, that is good. The design argument refers to (non-moral) functions for which the various (apparently) designed parts of nature operate. The first-cause argument refers to an original creation event that could not have happened mechanistically but only if there was a personal cause, i.e., teleological and volitional.

2) The Ontological Argument
This classic argument from St. Anselm goes something like this:

Premise 1: God is defined as “that which none greater can be conceived” (i.e., God is insurpassably great)
Premise 2: It is greater to exist than to not exist
Conclusion: Therefore God exists.

Now I find this argument to be valid and even sound but I don’t like the argument because despite it’s long history and it’s philosophic rigor, it just isn’t very persuasive, it sounds like a word game, but most important, it’s not clear to me that that first premise is stating something that’s metaphysically possible. In other words, the argument risks metaphysical trickery if the definition given in premise one can only work as language, or an idea, but not as an extra-mental reality. If this “insurpassably great” God can only exist in language then we haven’t proven he exists beyond the range of word games.

If I’m not a fan of the ontological argument, then why do I bring it up? Well, the Anselmian definition of God is still a keen definition that comports with all the other arguments used so far. If God really is “that which none greater can be conceived,” then it is greater to be the basis of morality than just another subordinate under some external moral system. It is greater to also be the designer than to be only one or the other, the designer or the moralist. And it is greater to also be the first cause, designer, and moral basis than to be 1 or 2 of these without the others.

Also, the Ontological Argument might not be very strong on it’s own merits, but that problematic first premise gains credibility if other arguments help prove it’s plausibility, namely, that there is a supremely powerful creator, a supremely intelligent designer, and a transcendentally good person at back of our cosmos, it’s designs, and the moral of this world. I don’t find the Ontological Argument to be very compelling on it’s own, but if we have other reasons to think that there can be a character who is unimaginably great well then we are now working with something more than just a philosophical abstraction or a linguistic definition. Now we are dealing with a metaphysically plausible entity.

Conclusion

So it seems there are at least a few responses we can give the next time a skeptic or atheist raises the convergence problem. I don’t consider this problem “solved” but neither does it constitute some big impressive objection to theism. With Ockham’s razor, Inborn Convergence, and the Ontological Argument, we can bring the different conclusions together into the same single God.

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