How To Think About God: A guide for the 20th-century pagan, Mortimer Adler, 1980.

The back-cover blurb baldly claims that God's existence "can be proven" - I'm sure Adler would be surprised, since he dedicates a chapter to explaining why existence of empirical objects (including God) can't be "proven" in the strict mathematical sense, but only inferred. The certitude of Adler's argument is somewhat less than Euclid's proof of the existence of equilateral triangles in mathematical space, and somewhat more than the "proof" of a lawyer who must do so "beyond reasonable doubt" in court.

With that in mind, Adler puts forth a very strong argument for God's existence, discrediting the arguments ontological and cosmological and slapping Kant around a bit en route. For the layman in philosophy, this is a short, well-rounded course in the core problems of theology.

The main reward of this treatise, though, is Adler's refinement on the cosmological argument. Since the title has gone, sadly, out of print, I have no qualms about reproducing his premises, and a quick condensation of the support for his one questionable premise.

  1. The existence of an effect requiring the concurrent existence and action of an efficient cause implies the existence and action of that cause.
  2. The cosmos as a whole exists.
  3. The existence of the cosmos as a whole is radically contingent, requiring a preservative efficient cause.
  4. IF the cosmos needs an efficient cause of its continuing existence to prevent its annihilation, THEN that cause must be a supernatural being, supernatural in its action, and one the existence of which is uncaused, in other words, the supreme being, or God.
1, 2, and 4 are variously self-evident, or evident through definition of terms. In support of premise #3, Adler contends that the really existent cosmos is but one of a number of imaginable cosmoi; its existence is not necessary, therefore its existence must be contingent. Existential contingency is either superficial (the object ceases to exist in a form, but its constituents then lend themselves to other forms), or radical (the object and all its parts cease to exist in any manner). By definition of "cosmos", its contingency can't be superficial: if it becomes a different cosmos, it's still the cosmos, but if it stops being the cosmos, there is no cosmos nor any of its parts.

It's well worth bearing in mind that this addresses only the harshest strictures under which one might try to ascertain God's existence. It says nothing about what conditions are the actual - the cosmos might be temporally finite, Created in the Big Bang, and scheduled for deletion when the heat death settles down, or any day now. If God is half the joker I think He is, He's probably chuckling up His arguably immaterial sleeve, having created the cosmos and circumvented all this philosophical chicanery Himself.

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