How do we know?

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we’ve seen that Pastor Stephen Feinstein would be ill-advised to propose that there are any material preconditions for the universe, “reasonable standards,” and epistemology. That which exists in the same form at all points in time is necessarily uncaused and uncausable, since there’s no point in time where it was not already what it is now, and therefore no opportunity for it to be changed from “non-existent” to “existing.” The laws of physics, the laws of logic and reason, the fundamental material aspects of the space-time continuum, and so on, are all uncreatable and have no material preconditions.

That leaves logical preconditions, i.e. the relationship between A and B that allows us to say B cannot be true if A is false, and thus if B is true then we know A must be true also. Given that there is no possibility that the universe, “reasonable standards” and epistemology could have supernatural causes, can we nevertheless reason our way from B (the universe, reasonable standards, and epistemology) back to some A that must also be true? Can we, in other words, find Pastor Stephen’s logical preconditions for the existence of the universe, reason, and epistemology?

Before we answer that, let me first raise a point about the difference between a pantheistic God and a creator God. A pantheistic God is a God whose nature and extent coincide with the nature and extent of reality itself: everything that actually exists is ultimately an aspect of God, and nothing exists apart from the various aspects of God. With a pantheistic God, there is no difference between the nature of God and the nature of reality because they are literally the same thing, (and if you do have a pantheistic God then you’ll find no better priest than a scientist, even if that scientist is an atheist).

A creator God, by contrast, is an entity that is somewhat less than reality itself. That is to say, a creator God has to exist within the larger context of a reality which contains some things that are God and some things that are not God. By being separate and distinct from His/Her/Its/Their creations, the creator God(s) necessarily exist as part of a larger whole. That’s important, for reasons we shall see shortly.

The next point to consider is the principle that real world truth is consistent with itself. This is a two-fold self-consistency: negatively, it means that real world truth does not contradict itself, and positively it means that real world truth is cohesive and coherent, i.e. all the different aspects of the truth are related to one another in ways that allow us to start from one fact and proceed to another. This self-consistency is the necessary and sufficient precondition for the universe, for reason and reasonable standards, and for a working and reliable epistemology. Plus if we think about it, we can even rule out the possibility that a non-pantheistic God could be a logical or material precondition for our universe/reason/epistemology.

Just to clarify, though, when we talk about self-consistent real world truth, we’re talking about reality itself—not just ideas and perceptions about a thing, but the actual thing itself, as it exists independently of our perceptions of it. Self-consistent real world truth is reality, and “to exist” means to be part of this unified, cohesive whole. Whatever is not part of this self-consistent whole is, by definition, neither true nor real.

This quality of reality is what makes reliable epistemology possible. Despite any possible flaws in our perceptions, our real world experiences are experiences of this self-consistent real world truth. We may misinterpret our perceptions and overlay them with conceptual patterns that are not consistent with the truth, but the root causes of our perceptions are still bound to self-consistent real world truth that is their source, and thus continued observations and experiences will reinforce the correctness of our accurate perceptions and interpretations, and the contradictions and inconsistencies of our untrue perceptions and interpretations. Remember, we ourselves are also part of the same cohesive, self-consistent reality we are perceiving!

Thus, the universe, reason and reasonable standards, and epistemology, all have the same precondition: the existence of self-consistent real world truth. If self-consistent real world truth did not exist (i.e. if a cohesive and non-self-contradictory reality did not exist), then not only would meaning be impossible, but existence itself would be. If reality does not exist, then obviously nothing, not even God, can be a part of that reality.

In fact, we can’t really even discuss what conditions would be like in such a world, because its nature would make any meaningful discussion impossible. Imagine if real-world truth were not self-consistent, and if the contradiction of the truth no longer meant “false,” and if there were no longer any meaningful distinction between “X exists” and “X does not exist.” Can we describe what did or did not exist in such a universe? Even our material universe would be impossible, because how could any physical laws exist in a cosmos where there was no way to make a meaningful distinction between obeying the law and violating it?

Under such conditions, it would no longer be meaningful to speak of there being any God or Gods, nor would it mean anything to speak of any preconditions for anything else. Not only would God have no meaningful existence, but meaning itself would not exist. To experience such a world would be the same as not experiencing it, or experiencing something that was not the real world (assuming the phrase “the real world” could signify anything under such conditions). Such a world would be unknowable and unworkable, being simultaneously the negation of itself and irrelevant to itself.

The existence of self-consistent real world truth is the logical precondition for the existence of the universe, for reason and reasonable standards, and for epistemology, because if the former does not exist then the latter cannot either. Now, let’s consider our non-pantheistic God. Can He/She/It/They be the precondition for the self-consistency of real world truth? No, because His/Her/Its/Their own existence is contingent on the existence of a greater, self-consistent reality of which God Himself is only a part. A pantheistic God could be a precondition by virtue of being synonymous with the self-consistent reality itself, but a creator God must be a part of a greater whole, and the self-consistency of the whole must reside in the whole itself, and not in any lesser part like God. Otherwise there’s no way for God’s own existence to be consistent with the greater reality of the real world.

I’ll grant you, that’s a lot of stuff for one blog post, and I’m really only skimming the surface here. But that’s a taste, at least, of the reasons why Pastor Stephen’s argument is going to fail. His God is a non-pantheistic God, and his attempt to sabotage epistemology is only an attempt to block out the nagging of a reality that keeps reminding him that his God doesn’t really exist outside his own head. Truth—meaning the real world truth as it exists outside of our perceptions of it—is consistent with itself, and this self-consistency both defines what it means to exist and exposes his God’s failure to do so.


  1. David Evans says

    “Can He/She/It/They be the precondition for the self-consistency of real world truth? No, because His/Her/Its/Their own existence is contingent on the existence of a greater, self-consistent reality of which God Himself is only a part.”

    I think this argument is dubious. Compare:

    Can Tolkien, the author of LOTR, be the precondition for the existence of LOTR?

    In a strictly logical sense, no, because the phrase “Tolkien, the author of LOTR” describes someone who would not exist unless LOTR existed.

    But in a substantive sense Tolkien, the man, is the precondition for the existence of LOTR. He created it, and if he had not done so it would not exist, but he himself would still exist.

    Isn’t it conceivable that there is a being who is in the same relationship to the rest of reality as Tolkien is to LOTR?

    • says

      Of course it’s conceivable, but there is no evidence to support that conjecture. So if he/she/it is real but hidden from us in some way then he/she/it is useless and equivalent to not existing. The problem with Feinstein’s argument, is that like any first-cause argument, it is self defining; God is a necessary being because he ‘has to be’ for his argument to work, full stop.

      By the way it is worth asking if we do actually have a consistent universe? It is fairly well established that things at the macroscopic level behave quite differently that things at the subatomic level.

      • says

        “By the way it is worth asking if we do actually have a consistent universe? ”

        This part of Pastor Feinstein’s argument confused me. He states, essentially, that an ordered Universe presupposes God’s involvement in creating it, that there is no reason to think that a purely naturally occurring Universe would follow any laws, and that Russell’s appeal to an ordered ( but unguided ) Universe only makes sense if God exists. However, despite saying that the Universe is perfectly ordered and only God could make it so, he also believes in the regular suspension of these laws by God, in the form of miracles.

        Therefore, if God can and does regularly suspend the natural laws of the Universe (miracles), would that not be a more valid demonstration of God’s involvement in the Universe than if everything marched on like clockwork without any measurable deviation? ( Not surprisingly, we’ve never objectively recorded any suspension of these laws… )

        Pastor Feinstein seems to be arguing for the existence of God with evidence which in fact argues against God… and his argument becomes, ‘The universe is ordered and the natural orderer is also suspended on God’s whim, anything can happen, so therefore God did it…” … is that a valid assessment?

      • Deacon Duncan says

        I noticed that too. You’d think that an undirected, mechanistic universe would be more orderly and regular than one that was subject to arbitrary re-arrangement on the whim of a supernatural deity, and thus Feinstein’s evidence provides more support for the absence of such a being rather than its presence. Yet for some reason he prefers to draw the opposite conclusion. Makes you wonder if he takes the same approach to all of his evidence.

    • Danny W says


      The point is about what the pre-conditions for logic, reason, the universe and epistomology, and, ultimately, what the ultimate precondition is.

      The author puts forward the “self consistency of real world truth” as a pre-condition and his argument shows that a creator God cannot be a pre-condition of this.

      To your example, Tolkien is a precondition of LOTR, but he is not the ultimate precondition. I.e., what does it take for Tolkien to exist in order to write LOTR?

      Eventually, the presuppositional apologist gets back to “The Christian God” is the ultimate pre-condition for everything. The apologist will basically try to tie you in knots by saying, “by using logic you are pre-supposing my God existed to create it and maintain it, so atheism is self contradictory” (LOL). However, I find the argument here, that he cannot be the pre-condition of the self consistency of real world truth, to be compelling.

      This argument does not rule out a God figure who created the universe in the same way that Tolkien created LOTR. But it rules him out as the necessary ultimate precondition, and shows that the God itself has a precondition (self consistency of real world truth).

      Hence, what we have here is not proof that no Gods exist, but a rebuttal to Presuppositional apologetics, and a pretty good one IMO.

    • says

      I fail to see how your Tolkien example shows Deacon’s argument to be dubious. Is not Tolkien part “of a greater, self-consistent reality”? The answer should be “Yes, he is,” unless you are suggesting that Tolkien is God!

      I guess what I got out of what Deacon said is that a god could exist, but that god could not be the creator of reality itself, which is what, if I recall correctly, Feinstein is essentially arguing.

      • David Evans says

        No analogy is perfect. Tolkien is unlike the hypothetical God in that he is a contingent being. He is like that God in being a creator.

        I think Deacon Duncan is pulling a fast one here. He is saying that God cannot be responsible for the existence and self-consistence of “reality” because he is part of that reality. True. But if God created the Universe, can he be responsible for the existence and self-consistence of the Universe? I don’t see why not. He is part of reality, in the sense that reality is the set {God, Universe}. But he is not part of the Universe.

      • Deacon Duncan says


        What you say is true, but tangential to my point. It’s not that a creator God could not create a consistent universe. That’s certainly a possibility that we could discuss. However, the question is, what would it take for such a creator God to exist in the first place? He (or She or It or They) can only create something that is not God if He exists as part of a greater, self-consistent reality that has room for both things that are God and things that are not. Reality is at least the set of all things that actually exist, so the only way that reality can fail to exist is if nothing exists, not even God. Therefore if God does not exist, there will be no way for Him to create the reality that includes Himself, because He won’t exist to create it.

        Once you already have the greater, self-consistent reality that allegedly includes God, you can reasonably propose the possibility that He (She/It/They) could create self-consistent parts of reality. But the greater reality as a whole, which includes God Himself, cannot be created by God, because then He would have to create Himself ex nihilo. And I think even Pastor Feinstein would agree that God cannot Himself be created ex nihilo.

      • David Evans says

        “He (or She or It or They) can only create something that is not God if He exists as part of a greater, self-consistent reality that has room for both things that are God and things that are not.”

        I really don’t see this argument. The traditional view is something like this.

        Before God created the universe, he was the only reality,
        State 1: reality = {God}

        After God created the universe, reality consisted of God plus the universe,
        State 2: reality = {God,universe}

        God by definition is all-powerful and self-sufficient, so there should be no problem with either State 1 or the transition to State 2.

        If this is impossible, just where does the impossibility lie?

        In saying “that has room for both things that are God and things that are not.” are you saying that the potentiality for the universe had to exist before it was created?
        State 1

      • David Evans says

        The last line of my comment of 3:05 pm, “State 1”, shouldn’t be there. Somehow I was thrown out of the editing process before I had finished.

  2. extian says

    Excellent takedown. As this is a debate over who has “The Ultimate Precondition,” Feinstein does a poor job of answering the oft-repeated rebuttal of the first-cause argument: How do you account for God?

    Feinstein dodges this by simply asserting that God is a necessary being simply because….well, because he just is.

    I’m no philosophy expert, so help me out – is it a logical necessity that contingency requires necessity? Why can’t something be self-contingent (i.e. no necessary being)?

  3. Deacon Duncan says

    @David Evans

    (Comment threading is nice for short exchanges, but it sure gets tedious for longer discussions, doesn’t it?)

    Here’s where it starts to get a bit more complex. You’re describing a scenario in which different states exist at different points in time. At one point in time, only God exists, and then at some subsequent point in time God+Creation exists. The catch is that time itself is also real, i.e. is also a part of reality. It’s not the whole of reality, because there are other things that are real that are not time, but it’s part of reality.

    When we describe what reality as a whole has to be, as a logical precondition for the existence of a creator God, we have to consider reality as a whole, including past, present, and future. What must the nature of the whole of reality be, including the whole of time, in order for it to be logically possible for a creator God to exist? The answer, for non-pantheistic gods, is that the nature of reality must be such that it encompasses both things that are God, and things that are not God. And for things to be true within that reality, for things to exist at all in any meaningful way, the whole must possess that coherent and cohesive self-consistency I described in my post.

    This means that any creator God’s existence is going to be contingent upon the existence of a greater reality which possesses the inherent, characteristic self-consistency that will be necessary in order for reason and meaning and science and even existence itself (in any meaningful form). And conversely, the greater, self-consistent reality is not itself contingent on the existence of any god (or at least any non-pantheistic god). When Pastor Feinstein asks for the preconditions for the universe, for reason and reasonable standards, and for epistemology, in hopes of deriving God’s existence as a necessary conclusion, he’s raising a false hope for believers. God has the same preconditions as all those things do, and is thus, Himself, not a necessary precondition.

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