What is not, is not what not is.

Rutten shook the philosophical world with a new type of proof for the Existence of God. And whatever I have to say about it, first and foremost: wow, what a creativity of thought. Many, many kudos to Emanuel Rutten.

In the years has he presented two versions of his proof. I start with his original version and will later on continu with the second one. The two versions are foremost different based on the first premise. I start talking about each sentence one by one and only then his complete proof. The original first premise goes like this:
(i) If it is metaphysically impossible to know proposition p , then p is necessarily false.
With this premise Rutten means that:

  1. the world is intelligible,
  2. in all possible worlds is proposition p not known,
  3. conclusion: that proposition is not proven in one of all possible worlds, hence false.

If the world is not intelligible, meaning that it can remain unknown if some proposition is true or not, then is it difficult to talk about a lot of subjects. Does a unicorn exist? As far as we know not in our world – although there are clues that the origin of the existence of the unicorn is the Indian rhinoceros – hence we are allowed to say that unicorns do not exist in our world. It does not imply however that unicorns do not exist at all. But if in all possible worlds it is not known that unicorns exist, why should it then be impossible to say that unicorns do not exist?

That first premise might look like a contradiction, because how is it possible to know that a statement p is absolutely false when it is principally impossible to know? What can you say positively about something that is beyond any grasp? Rutten solves this problem by stating that if it is not known in all possible worlds, then is the conclusion that it is necessarily false justified. He states the opposite proposition, which is in my opinion just as questionable, too:
'Moreover, the claim that all possible truths are knowable has a very high confirmation and corroboration rate.', page 2 in 'Atomism, Causalism and the Existence of a First Cause' (= ACE) by Emmanuel Rutten. How do you know? How can you know how big the set of all possible truths is? How is the set of all known truths by you a measure of all possible truths? What percentage of all possible truths do you know?

The first premise would be a contradiction if he is not explaining how he comes to it. In this case, he is neglecting that what remains unknown. The first premise is in my opinion a statement which is formulated too absolute. It is like rewriting 'I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am' into 'I know for sure that I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.' It masks completely the inner movement of doubting, which is essential for this statement, by the power of affirmation.

If the main problem is the covering up of a small uncertainty, which we normally would take for granted, is the first premise then acceptable? If all conscious beings on all possible planets are unaware of the existence of unicorns, then is it indeed most likely that unicorns do not exist. The problem I have with this kind of reasoning is that it is getting to the desired result so easy. 'If all conscious beings do not know...' It is so theoretical, that it is in no way falsifiable. I hesitate to counter this statement with a question, because if you have already the freedom to think this in order to support your own ideas, then will you not get stopped by any counter argument. My counter argument would be based on reality, not on all possible worlds. If I try to counter this premise, then I have to make use of the idea of all possible worlds. I would say it like this:
Suppose on one of all possible worlds. That possible world has two main features:

  1. Only the conscious beings that live on that world have knowledge about that world. No other conscious being on any other possible world can enter that possible world.
  2. All conscious beings living on that world have only smell as their main sensory of perception. They recognize different species and individuals solely based on smell.

Hence the only way to ask them if an unicorn does exist or not is by presenting them the smell of an unicorn. How do you do that? How will you get an answer from them? You state that it is a statement which is impossible to know, so you are bound in your thinking by exact that impossibility to know. You will therefore never be able to present them a smell of an unicorn (if there is a smell of an unicorn, then it exists obviously) nor can you postulate a possible world in which it is known that on that specific planet there are no unicorns around. And if you can not get an answer from them, implying that you can not get an answer on at least one of all possible worlds, is it then still possible to say that something which is impossible to know is necessarily false? Unicorns might exist on that planet – as a good developed nose is very important on that planet.
Pff, is that philosophy? Good that he changed this premise.

The next premise of Rutten is:
(ii) The proposition 'God does not exist' is necessarily unknowable.
God is here personal first cause, which means that God is an uncaused personal being and directly or indirectly the cause of everything else that exists. So a lot of religious discussions about what and who God is, is left out of the definition of God.
Rutten states that it is virtually impossible to prove that God does not exist. 'For, whatever the arguments against the existence of God, there will always remain some non-neglectable epistemic possibility that God does exist after all, so that we can never truly say, … , that we know that God does not exist.', page 4 ACE. So, what he in his first premise uses as a neglectable uncertainty in order to establish the conclusion that that which is impossible to know is enough to state that it is necessarily false, is now the argument to establish the conclusion that it can not be known by definition. He is very lenient in his argumentation to say the least.

The first conclusion that can be drawn from those two premises is:
(iii) Therefore 'God does not exist' is necessarily false.
That makes sense from the first two premises, although both premises do not make much sense to me. This leads to the end conclusion: (iiii) Therefore, necessarily, God exists.

All together:

(i) If it is metaphysically impossible to know proposition p , then p is necessarily false.
(ii) The proposition 'God does not exist' is necessarily unknowable.
(iii) Therefore 'God does not exist' is necessarily false.
(iiii) Therefore, necessarily, God exists.

Possible worlds.

The rest of the paper is he dealing with ten possible arguments against this line of argumentation. I will not delve into that discussion, because it is rather selfconfirming thinking to me. What are the boundaries of thinking if you think what is possible in all possible worlds? What counterargument can you postulate? How can you counter any counterargument that is thinking in other possible worlds? Both of which are not proven to exist? What if I think of a possible world in which only true and intelligible propositions can be uttered and hence his first proposition or its derivatives ('unicorns do not exist', 'God does not exist') can never be formulated? It means that on that planet any of those questions can not be asked as it can not be uttered. Is that a valid counterargument for his first or second premise or not? Why could it be? Why could it not be? Are there any rules, criteria for that or is it just the flexibility of mind of the thinker at hand? It is imho a never ending story of wishful thinking.

What I consider more interesting are two of his own thoughts about his statements. He thinks for instance that it is not an example of begging the question, because he is not starting with the assumption that God exists. He starts with the assumption that God possibly exists. The first time he states that God exists actually is in the end conclusion.
Nor does he say that God is a necessarily existing being, which would make his line of argumentation an ontological one. I like that very much about him.

Now I have written about his own thoughts about his own argumentations I realize that I have to give some examples of possible worlds he is introducing. In one of his reasonings is he introducing a possible world in which the people can know the existence of God:
'Take a possible world in which God exists and in which there is an afterlife, such that all who enter the afterlife in that possible world will encounter the divine. In that case, those subjects who enter the afterlife will in fact know that God exists. So, it is not impossible to know that God exists.', page 5 ACE.
This is imho not an argument, because there are so many fantasies involved in the description of this possible world. The God Rutten is talking about is the personal first cause. How can that God be met in the afterlife? Why only then? Is there a life after death? Doesn't it look very familiar to Christianity? And what if it is also possible to not know God living in that world? You can't proof the existence of a being based on the possibility to exist. If the existence has not been proven yet, then any possible scenario of that being existing doesn't make it more realistic than before. 1000 arguments that something might exist are just as non impressive as 1 argument why something might not exist. You can not add up all arguments that might prove existence and compare them to the number of all arguments that might disprove existence – althought logically they should have exactly the same number somewhere in infinity – and draw any conclusion from that. The difference between possible and actual remains the same.
In another possible world is he describing a world in which God exists:
'For, take a possible world in which God exists. In such a possible world there is a subject that knows that God exists, namely God. Indeed, in that world God knows that God exists. So, it is not impossible to know that God exists.', page 6 ACE. Well the same line of reasoning applies: that something is possible is no evidence for something to actually exist.

Change of premises.

In version 2.0 of 'A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God' uses Rutten another set of premises, which he there considers to be exactly the same:
(i) All possible truths are knowable.
(ii) It is impossible to know that God does not exist.
and he formulates this conclusion:
(ii) It is necessarily true that God exists.
Well, the premises are easier to read, but to say that this set is equivalent to the first set of premises? The first premise is originally stated as follows:
(i) If it is metaphysically impossible to know proposition p, then p is necessarily false.
It can be rephrased without loss of meaning into:
(i) All unknowable propositions p are false.
The latter implies that only of all statements that are unknowable it is known that they are false. Hence, all other propositions, which are all knowable, can be either true or false. All knowable propsitions is not equal to all possible truths. It is correct that the new first premise used by Rutten is part of the negation of the orginal first premise, but it is not the same. All known false propositions belong to the negation of the original first premise as well.
The first version of the second premise was
(ii) The proposition 'God does not exist' is necessarily unknowable.
The second version of the second premise reads easier than the first version and those two second premises are very similar indeed. They do not refer to two different collections like the two versions of the first premises do.

But they do not have to lead to the same conclusion, because in the second set of premises there is no forcing line of argumentation. There are also a lot of false statements that are knowable. That the proposition 'God does not exist' is a false statement because it can not be known, does not imply in this case that the opposite proposition 'God exists' is a true statement. It still might be a false, yet knowable, statement. That you can not prove 'God does not exist' does not imply in this set of premises that you can prove 'God exists' with that. The collection of knowable propositions as a negation of the second premise differs from the collection stated in the first premise.

A problem with the second set of premises is that Rutten restricts the meaning and applicability of the first premise. It is restricted to rationally believable propositions and first order propostions. First order propositions are those propositions that directly refer to an object. Propositions as 'God does exist' or 'John left Amsterdam' are first order propositions. The second premise of his set of premises, however, is a second order proposition as it is talking about the impossibility to know about the first order proposition 'God does not exist.'
However, after he has formulated this restriction in use of the first premise, he reformulates his line of argumentation and changes it according to forementioned demands. Instead of a three line argumentation he changed it in a seven line argumentation. I leave that out of here, but I found it very elegant of him. He was aware of the problem and solved it directly.

Foundation of both premises

The first thing that Rutten will try to prove is the validity of the first premise. He proves it using the possibility that it is sufficient for a truth that it is known by only one conscious being in any possible world. There are so many possible worlds and so much more conscious beings, that is very likely that any possible truth is at least known to one being, which makes the first premise very reasonable. The opposite premise, that when it is not known by any conscious being in any possible world, is then most likely false. Within this line of reasoning I can agree with him. I can only not agree with that line of reasoning.
Another argument to validate the first premise is to show how good it correlates with the idea that the world is intelligible. Rutten gives an impressive list of philosophers and philosophical schools that comply with his first premise, for instance Parmenides, Aristotle, Hegel, Kant to name a few. On the one hand is a list of notable colleagues and schools a good argument. They are acknowledged experts. On the other hand is this the fallacy ad verecundiam. Which is saying that it is not an argument to rely on acknowledged experts. There were once many people who believed that the Earth and later the Sun stood in the centre of the universe. Only in 1924 was discovered by Hubble that the universe was much, much bigger than we ever imagined before.

For the second premise he is trying to show that it is impossible to know that God does not exist. There are four ways to get to knowledge according to Rutten:

  1. logical proof,
  2. direct intuition,
  3. direct experience, and
  4. indisputable testimony.

In order to find out if 'God does not exist' is knowable from the perspective of logical proof must it be evident that the defintion of God is not coherent or contradicting itself. Rutten defines God as a personal first cause. That is according to him a coherent, not contradicting definition. Hence God might exist and is it therefore impossible using logical proof to know that God does not exist. By the way, if you define God as the personal first cause, then might this God be a totally different God than the God of any religion on earth.
The same way there is no evidence from direct intuition or direct experience in his view nor is there an indisputable testimony that proofs that God does not exist. Therefore does he conclude that there is no way to get to know that God does not exist. I like this part of his argumentation. Normally people are asked to proof God other than intuition, personal experience or a testimony from a holy book. Which of course is impossible. Now is he using this weakness as a force. As difficult as it is to proof the existence of God based on those types of knowledge, it is equally impossible to proof that God does not exist on thos types of knowledge.

Discussion

One of his main arguments to prove his points is that the concept of a personal first cause is not a logical contradiction. I will focus completely on that point in this discussion, because if that point is refuted, then you have no definition of God left.
Everything that exists starts to exist as some moment in time. And everything that exists at a certain time has a cause after which it started to exist. In other words, everything that exists is an effect of a previous cause. Now is it very easy to see that the first thing in the universe that was created could not have a cause from something else in the universe. Therefore should it have a cause external to the universe itself, which is then called the personal first cause. I would like to say some things about the personal first cause:

  1. Is a personal first cause required?
  2. What are the consequences for God for being the personal first cause?
  3. What says a personal first cause about causal relationships?
  4. One should restrict to what one can know and not go beyond that border of knowledge.

ad 1. What if nothing has ever been created in total? What if the sum of all universes is zero? That does not require a causal relationship, but an undisturbable equilibrium accross universes. That would imply that if something is created in this universe, that there is at least one other universe in which exactly the opposite is created in order to preserve the perfect equilibrium of nothing. I can not imagine how this will work out. What is the exact opposite of those thougths, of the way I type those letters, the taste of the food I had today? How unimaginable this might be, it solves at least the contradiction that everything requires a cause except the first cause.
Is the above mentioned line of reasoning a restriction to what one can know and not cross any border of knowledge? I would say that it is, because although the solution raises much more new questions then a propostion of exactly one personal first cause, it puts two things in its proper place:

  1. If there is something unimaginable, let that be just as big as what is imaginable, which is the universe.
  2. Humans have a limited mind for problems of that complexity. That is made clear by the assumption that things can only become created using causal relationships, because that is what we experience every day. Might the best solution not be something that is beyond our imagination and understanding, just as the existence of the universe is already something far beyond our power of imagination and understanding?

The solution is too complex for our mind to handle. Thus is the solution restricted by our knowledge and it does not cross our border of knowledge as we do acknowledge that we actually do not understand what we are talking about. That statement, however, is much more consistent with itself then stating that everything must be caused by something else except the first thing.

ad 2. Rutten might describe the personal first cause with God, but that does not hide the fact that it is something that no conscious being on any possible world has seen, experienced, proven logically since. If it has happened, then can it only be experienced by one conscious being only and that is God. To be able to prove that event must God exist or be assumed to exist as He is the only one that can deliver the proof. But if we have to do that, then are we begging the question, because it is the aim of this line of argumentation to prove God without requiring the existence of God. To stipulate that God is the personal first cause is only possible when you presuppose the existence of God (as there is nothing that precedes or can explain the existence of God) or that a personal first cause has happened. Returning to his original version of the first premise: that which is impossible to know must be necessarily false. The existence of a personal first cause can only be known by any other conscious being other than the personal first cause by simply believing the direct testimony from God Himself. Direct testimonies are notoriously unreliable and because it is by definition impossible to know as the personal first cause occured before the existence of the universe (of all possible worlds), then it must be in the words of Rutten false. Even when it is in fact true.
Now people might reject that Rutten has presented another version of the first premise, but imho that doesn't make any difference. The second version is 'All possible truths are knowable.' Rutten is making proofs using all possible worlds etc. This is a line of thinking which is restricted within the universe. Or if there are more universes and they have one personal first cause, then does it apply to all other universes as well. The personal first cause however, originates outside the universe, hence outside the realm of the second version of the first premise as well. All possible truths is restricted to truths within the universe. If God is equal to the personal first cause, then is from outside the universe, hence not a possible truth within this universe.

ad 3. In the current state of knowledge is the process of creation without a cause a very big exception to the rule if possible. On one hand you have the vast collection of situations expected to happen and on the other hand the one occurence of that which should be impossible to happen, yet has happened. The (creation of and) existence of God is that unique event. If, therefore you define God as the personal first cause and say that things can only get created with a proper cause, then is God a logical contradiction. If God is a logical contradiction, then is everything which follows from God, that is the universe – and by implication logic too an unique logical contradiction.

What if you let go the current state of knowledge about causal relationships and you think about what is the most basic process of creation? Then would I say: first things first. God is the first thing, hence His process of creation is the most basic one and therefore getting created without a previous cause is the most basic process of creation. That is the norm of creation. It can be argued furthermore that creation with a proper cause is not really the creation of something new. It might better be called a rearrangement from that what already was, which is inline with the first law of Thermodynamics that “energy can't get lost or get created out of nothing." Therefor has nothing new been created anymore really since God was created – if He ever was created. The score of creation ex nihilo versus creation with a proper cause is 1 – 0. If God exists, then is he still in the lead and we have no way to settle the score as we are subdued to the First Law of The Universe, which states “Nothing within the universe can create ex nihilo." Only God is not restricted by the laws posed on the universe as He 'started' to exist outside the universe. That implies that if God is the first thing ever created and God is created without any previous cause, that there has never been any cause that created something. After all, He Himself was without cause and the rest was a new way to arrange something. Therefore is the definition “God is the personal first cause" a logical contradiction as the only time that something really new has been created it was without a cause and it happened outside the universe and within the universe there has never been a cause to create something new as it is only a new rearrangement of what already existed.

ad 4. Now the question remains: is there any difference between God and the universe? In other words: did God create an universe that is independent from Him or is it created with and or within Him? Frankly said: I can not give any non speculative answer about it. Instead of making the decision that which is impossible to know must be false I will bow my head in humility and repeat after Wittgenstein:
“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."