This is the third post in the ongoing series presenting an argument for the existence of God. In this post we move into the argument itself, taking the first step toward an argument for the existence of God.
In this first step, I will show that at least one unconditioned reality exists. First, we will define what it means to be a conditioned or unconditioned reality. Then we will proceed to demonstrate that the assertion “there is no unconditioned reality” logically entails that there are no realities at all. In other words, the claim that there are no unconditioned realities is logically equivalent to saying that nothing exists. Definitions: Realities Conditioned and Unconditioned
Our terms are drawn from Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God.
1.1 A conditioned reality is any reality whose existence depends in any way on some other reality. “Reality” is used very broadly here. It means not only material objects, but also physical laws, space, time–in short, anything that can be described as really existing.
1.2 An unconditioned reality is a reality whose existence does not depend on another reality for it to exist or happen. Its independence is absolute: if a reality depends upon another reality in any respect, it is conditioned.
1.3 A condition refers to any reality upon which a conditioned reality depends for its existence. A conditioned reality can have many conditions: an apple, for example, depends for its existence upon atomic and sub-atomic reality. The strong force, for example, is a condition for a given apple, for without the strong force, there would not be this apple.
We know that at least some things are conditioned. For example, the existence of human beings depends at present upon the earth’s atmosphere. Without the atmosphere, we would not be. Were it not for atomic reality, we could not exist at all. So we can say the following:
1.4 There exist some unconditioned realities.
Given that we know there are at least some conditioned realities, the question is whether there is an unconditioned reality (or realities). At this point, then, there are two options: either all realities are conditioned, or of all realities, one or more is unconditioned. We can put the two options this way:
1.5 Either only conditioned realities exist, or at least one existing reality is unconditioned.
To make things simple, we can refer to the first half of 1.5, which says that only conditioned realities exist, as ~UCR (for there are no unconditioned realities), and the second half as UCR. 1.5 can be reformulated as:
1.5a Either ~UCR or UCR.
If one option is false, the other must be true. If it is either the case that A or B is true, and it is that B is not true, then A must be true. Put in logical notation, the proof looks like this:
A v B ~A B
This form of indirect proof will be used here. I will demonstrate that the claim that only conditioned realities exist entails that no realities exist. Since this contradicts a fact we know to be true, (namely 1.4, that some conditioned realities exist), we can conclude that “only conditioned realities exist” is false. Thus, there must be at least one unconditioned reality.
Finite Regress of Conditions
Let’s consider a particular conditioned reality with a finite set of conditions, and call it CR1. Any condition with a finite number of conditions will have one or more “terminal conditions.” For example, CR1 has as its condition CR2, which has as its condition CR3.
If CR3 is the terminal condition, two things follow. First, CR3 does not exist, because its condition for existing is unfulfilled. (via 1.1 & 1.3) CR3 is a conditioned reality, which means that must have a further condition, CR4, that also must exist (via 1.3). But in this scenario, CR3 is the terminal condition. (The case of circular conditions, e.g., CR3 having as a condition CR1, is dealt with below.)
Second, the realities prior to CR3 in the series do not exist, because their conditions have not been fulfilled. If CR3 does not exist and CR3 is a condition for CR2, CR2 does not exist. CR2 is a condition for CR1, and therefore CR1 does not exist. (Again, we will consider the case of circular conditions below.)
Thus, we can conclude:
1.6 Any conditioned reality which has as its conditions a finite number of conditioned realities does not exist.
Consider the following table, which illustrates a simple case of CR1 having two further conditions:
|Stage 1||Stage 2||Stage 3|
|Conditioned reality in question||CR1||CR2||CR3|
|Conditions that must be fulfilled for Conditioned Reality to Exist||CR2 exists & CR2’s conditions are fulfilled||CR3 exists & CR2’s conditions are fulfilled||CR4 exists & CR4’s conditions are fulfilled|
|Present CR’s existential conditions met?||No||No||No|
|Previous CR’s existential conditions met?||No||No||No|
Compare to the following table, in which CR1’s condition, CR2, is conditioned by an unconditioned reality:
|Stage 1||Stage 2||Stage 3|
|Conditioned reality in question||CR1||CR2||UCR3|
|Conditions that must be fulfilled for Conditioned Reality to Exist||CR2 exists & CR2’s conditions are fulfilled||CR3 exists & CR2’s conditions are fulfilled||No conditions|
|Present CR’s existential conditions met?||No||No||Yes|
|Previous CR’s existential conditions met?||No||No||Yes|
Infinite Regress of Conditions
What about a conditioned reality with an infinite number of conditions that are likewise conditioned realities? Robert Spitzer points out that this too fails:
“CR1 would have to depend on some other conditioned reality, say, CR2, in order to exist. Hence it is nothing until CR2 exists and fulfills its [CR2’s] conditions. Similarly, CR2 would also have to depend on some other conditioned reality, say CR3, for its existence, and it would likewise be nothing until CR3 exists and fulfills its conditions.”
We saw in the foregoing paragraphs that if the chain comes to a stopping point at, say CR3, anything earlier in the series cannot exist.
If the chain does not come to a stopping point, the whole series will likewise not exist. If we continue through CR4 to CR5 and onward, at no point is any condition satisfied. CR4 does not exist until CR5 exists and CR5’s condition is fulfilled; CR5 does not exist until CR6 exists and its condition for existence likewise is satisfied. At no point, no matter how far we go, can any condition be fulfilled.
The infinite regress can only pile up unfulfilled conditions, because every step introduces a new unfulfilled condition. (This is the case whether we consider the series, so to speak, ordinally or cardinally.) Every attempt to posit a conditioned reality necessarily involves co-positing a conditioned reality whose conditions is, at that step, unfulfilled.
An infinite number of conditioned conditions, then, logically entails the nonexistence of any given conditioned reality.
Thus, we can conclude:
1.7 Any conditioned reality which has as its conditions an infinite number of conditioned realities does not exist.
|Stage 1||Stage 2||Stage 3||Stage 4|
|Conditioned reality in question||CR1||CR2||CR3||CR4|
|Conditions that must be fulfilled for Conditioned Reality to Exist||CR2 exists & CR2’s conditions are fulfilled||CR3 exists & CR2’s conditions are fulfilled||CR4 exists & CR4’s conditions are fulfilled||CR5 exists & CR5’s conditions are fulfilled…|
|Present CR’s existential conditions met?||No||No||No||No…|
|Previous CR’s existential conditions met?||No||No||No||No…|
As the illustration shows, at no stage of an infinite regress will any condition be satisfied.
But what if we posit a circular series of conditioned conditions for CR1? What if we say that CR1 has the condition CR2, which in turn has the condition CR3, which finally has the condition CR1? This can be quickly disposed of. Just as with an infinite chain, at no point, no matter how many times one goes around the circle, will any condition be satisfied.
If the circular regress stops at a certain point such that one of the conditioned realities is the first condition, the argument concerning a finite set of conditions applies. If the circular regress does not stops, but circles indefinitely, the argument concerning an infinite regress applies. In either case, the logical consequence of a circular series of conditioned realities is non-existence.
This gives us the following:
1.8 – A circular series of conditions is either a finite or an infinite set of conditions.
Putting It All Together
Let’s put all this together. It is either the case that there exist only conditioned realities or there exists at least one conditioned reality. (1.5) (This was also stated as either ~UCR or UCR. (1.5a))
Assume ~UCR. Let us also assume that there exists at least one thing. From these two assumptions, it follows there is at least one conditioned reality. We’ll call it CR1.
CR1 must have at least one existing condition for CR1 to exist. (1.1) Any condition CR1 has must also be a conditioned reality, because we have assumed that there exist no unconditioned realities. Either CR1 has as its condition a finite or an infinite number of conditions.
Assume CR1 does not have an infinite number of conditions. (Remember that these conditions are themselves conditioned realities, because we have assumed ~UCR.) CR1 would then have a finite number of conditions. It follows from this that CR1 does not exist. (1.6)
Assume CR1 does not have a finite number of conditions. (Remember that these conditions are themselves conditioned realities, because we have assumed ~UCR.) Then CR1 would have an infinite number of conditions. It follows that CR1 does not exist. (1.7)
Therefore, if we assume that only conditioned realities exist (~UCR), CR1 does not exist. Thus, the assumption that there are only conditioned realities entail the non-existence of any conditioned realities. In addition, the assumption that only conditioned realities exist, means that no unconditioned realities exist. But any reality will either be conditioned or not.
Therefore, if the assumption that only conditioned realities exist (~UCR) entails the non-existence of anything at all. The assumption that there are only conditioned realities is logically equivalent to the assumption there are no unconditioned realities. So we can set up another sub-step:
1.9 If there are no unconditioned realities, nothing exists.
Thus, if anything exists–anything at all–there is at least one unconditioned reality. An unconditioned reality is more certain than the existence of the Atlantic Ocean, or the Peony Star, or the Milky Way galaxy. I could, after all, be a brain in a vat, with all my perceptions pumped in by a computer simulation. But in this case, the computer simulation would still exist. That is, there would be at least one existing reality. And from this it follows there is an unconditioned reality.
No matter what fantastic scenario we come up with–where we might be deceived by a demon, be a part of a computer simulation, be a brain in a vat, or so on–it is indubitably the case that something exists. Something must exist to cause these sorts of deceptions. Therefore, we can conclude that
1.10 At least one reality exists.
If it is the case that at least one reality exists, it is not the case that nothing exists. So from 1.9 and 1.10, we can deduce our conclusion:
1.10 There exists at least one unconditioned reality.
Preview of the Next Steps
This is but the first step of the argument, and it does not, of itself, demonstrate the existence of a Christian God. However, it is a very big step in that direction. There are not many candidates for an “unconditioned reality” that lack the coloring of divinity. Any physical reality cannot be unconditioned, for it depends on things like matter, its constituent parts, space, or time.
Starting down this path takes us into the next steps in the proof. The argument of Step 2 is that an unconditioned reality must be absolutely simple. The argument of step 3 will be that an unconditioned reality must be simple in all perfections. In step 4, it will be shown that an unconditioned reality must be unique–there is only one unconditioned reality. In the final step, step 5, it will be demonstrated that an unconditional reality must be the continuous creator of every conditioned reality.